Jose Vasquez talks about the process of verifying the stories of those testifying
MATTHEW PALEVSKY, JOURNALIST: I’m at Winter Soldier in DC, standing right outside the room where Iraqi and Afghan vets are testifying. Because of the controversial nature of these testimonies, Iraq veterans against the war have done checks of all the stories that are to be given over these three days. I just spoke with Jose Vasquez, who’s one of the people in charge of this verification process.
JOSE VASQUEZ, LEADER OF VERIFICATION PROCESS: My job was basically to collect the interviews of the testifiers; and then also get corroborating evidence for them in terms of their military service—photos that they have, video from Iraq; talk to the people that they served with, just to verify that these are in fact Iraq veterans, that they were in the places that they said they were. We looked for media stories about them. We looked through right-wing blogs about them. So we wanted to try and get a full picture, basically a background check of the individuals that we’re putting up on stage.
PALEVSKY: And is there a threshold of information you need for them to go up and testify?
VASQUEZ: We can’t verify every story that a person tells when they were in Iraq. I mean, some people were doing types of missions where it’s only a squad of members that are, you know, patrolling the streets, and those are very difficult to verify. However, we sort of set a threshold in terms of them at least being able to first of all put them on the ground in Iraq. So anything from a DD 214 of the discharge paperwork. People also get orders to deploy to Iraq, so we wanted to see that as well. If they received medals, you know, during or after their service in Iraq, whenever somebody’s written up or recommended for an award, there’s paperwork that goes along with it, and short sort of descriptions of why they’re getting the award. So those types of pieces of paperwork are really valuable to us.
PALEVSKY: And earlier today, there was one man who testified that they had gone to a building where they knew fire had come from before, and basically fired on the entire building, hundreds of rounds, leveled it. He thought many civilians were in there. What kind of verification do you have of a story like that?
VASQUEZ: Well, in that case, you know, we would look for something like an un-embedded report or even an embedded report for a journalist that was with that unit during that time, who may have been describing stories that were coming out of that particular city. We also look for key words like the names of the operations that individuals were on.
PALEVSKY: Do you know for that particular report what you have for verification?
VASQUEZ: I’d have to look it up for you. There are so many members that I interview that it’s hard for me to remember exactly which one.
PALEVSKY: Is any of that public?
VASQUEZ: What we want to do is make as much of the corroborating evidence available online. And so what we’re working to do is to create a separate part of the Web site, where people can go and sort of click on the name of an individual who testified, and then see all of the evidence that they gave us that goes along with it. We’re also putting in, with the help of the military law task force, FOIA requests, Freedom of Information Act requests, to get further information about these stories. And so, you know, in addition to this event, we’re also putting out a book, we’re putting out a DVD, and we want to continue this process of collecting the stories of veterans.
PALEVSKY: Do you feel that this is the point of this conference, to release certain information that hasn’t been released? Is it a fact-based conference or, as many people are saying now, this is about subjective testimonies and what the effects of the Iraq war on soldiers when they come home?
VASQUEZ: Well, I think we definitely want to get the voices and the cost that this war is having on the soldiers that had to fight it. In terms of the facts that we want to present, I think once we are able to put all of the information up on the Web site and we have—as a verification team leader, I have files for each individual testifier. And so the documents that we’re able to collect, the video, the photos, all that is available to us already; we just need to figure out a way to present it to the public in a way that’s coherent.
PALEVSKY: How many of the people testifying have PTSD [posttraumatic stress disorder] or mental illnesses that would affect, you know, how they’re remembering things?
VASQUEZ: I mean, I’d have to get back to you for an exact number of how many of our members that are testifying have PTSD, but I would say the majority of the ones that you’ll hear on the rules of engagement panel for sure are dealing with some sort of mental health issues.
PALEVSKY: Do you worry that that takes away from their testimony?
VASQUEZ: I don’t, because I feel like anybody who has been in combat, I think it affects them in a very powerful way. Nobody who goes to combat is ever unchanged. And, I mean, even reporters that go and report in war-torn areas are affected by their experiences. So no, I don’t think someone having PTSD, that takes away from their credibility. I feel, in fact, you know, being able to publicly tell their stories is healing for them and empowering.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.