ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: Adam Kokesh, a sergeant in the Marine Corps, speaks about the ever changing rules of engagement in Iraq and the siege in Fallujah.
ADAM KOKESH, US SOLDIER: My name is Adam Kokesh. I served as a sergeant on a Marine Corps civil affairs team in the Fallujah area from February to September 2004. And I actually volunteered to go to Iraq. I was in a reserves and artillery unit. And when I found out my unit was getting called up, I decided I didn’t want to miss the party. So I found out that a civil affairs group at Camp Hamilton was looking for volunteers. And so I went out of my way to volunteer for that. And I was against the war before the war, even believing all of the lies that were told by Colin Powell at the UN, believing all of the intelligence, believing all the spin. I didn’t think it was going to be worth it. But I thought that afterwards what we were doing was cleaning up our mess and really responsible foreign policy and generally trying to do good by the Iraqi people, and that was something I wanted to be a part of and something that I enthusiastically risked my life for. This is the rules of engagement card that I was issued for our deployment to Iraq, and this is held up as the gold standard of conduct in the occupation right now. And they couldn’t even cut it square. But I’ll just read a part of it. It says, “Nothing on this card prevents you from using deadly force to defend yourself. Enemy, military, and paramilitary forces may be attacked, subject to the following instructions: Positive identification is required prior to engagement. Positive identification is ‘reasonably certainty,’” and that’s in quotes on the card, “that your target is a legitimate military target.” And of course we were supposed to keep this in our breast pocket here. But when Marines are put in a situation where they receive fire, and all they see is a muzzle flash coming from a building, and they don’t have positive identification, but they know that if they return fire through that window or towards that building, that they’re more likely to live through whatever’s going on. It’s a really difficult situation, and I think it’s criminal to put such patriotic Americans who have sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America in a situation where their morals are at odds with their survival instincts. During the siege of Fallujah, we changed rules of engagement more often than we changed our underwear. At first it was, you know, you follow the rules of engagement, you do what you’re supposed to do. And then there were times when it was you could shoot any suspicious observer. So someone with binoculars and a cell phone was fair game. And that really opened things up to a lot of subjectivity. But also firing at muzzle flashes into the city, firing Mark 19s into the city became common practice. One day in the middle of summer, we were closed due to heavy fighting in Fallujah, and that was the time that Zarqawi was there. And I got a random call on my field phone at the checkpoint saying, “You need to take one Marine and get up to the road and stop any black Opal that comes your way,” because Zarqawi was fleeing the city in a black Opal. And all I could say was, “What’s an Opal?” And so I got up there, and I was with my Marine. He was behind me. And I saw a black blur coming towards us, and I was like, “Hey, is that a black Opal?” And he was like, “That’s a black blur, sergeant.” So I got up on the road and I pointed my rifle down the freeway—and this was the main road going between Fallujah and Baghdad—and at this car that’s going about 50 miles an hour yelled, “Kif! Stop!” And it whizzed right by me. And I turned around, and I was like, oh, crap, I hope I don’t have to shoot out his tires. But fortunately he stopped and I pulled him out. You know, the Marine was right behind me. We got there, we pulled him out of the car and said, you know, “We need to search you.” And, you know, they didn’t tell me that I was looking for Zarqawi. So it was like, “Alright, get out of the car.” And he had his wife and his kids in the back seat. And, you know, I frisked him and called up and said, you know, “Got one [“pak”] detained. Please advise. Over.” And my staff sergeant came out, he ran out there, trotted up, you know, after coming out of the air-conditioned building in the back, and he pulls out the al-Zarqawi wanted poster and looks at him and looks at the poster and goes, “Ah, that’s not him. Let him go.” And that kind of thing, where, you know, we’re just harrassing people unnecessarily is really kind of part of daily life there. And eventually we set up a proper checkpoint, and I was relieved and went back inside. And the Marines that were there were checking almost every car that came through, and they found a couple of guys that had a bag of cash in their back seat, and they detained them on suspicion. We’re like, “Alright, well, we’re going to detain them and interrogate them.” And so they were ZipCuffed and hooded, and I was told to go out and get him and pick them up. And so I picked them up in my Humvee, got the bag of cash, brought them back to the office, where it was air conditioned, and sat them down, and was just keeping an eye on them. And then the interrogators got there, and they were like, “Why the heck are you guys being so nice to these people?” And they started roughing them up, and throwing their heads against the wall, and preparing them for interrogation. And they dragged them out of the office. And apparently they got, actually, reprimanded on the outside of the office by one of our officers for engaging in that unnecessary behavior. And then they interrogated them, and they found out that there was no reason to detain them any further, and that the bag of cash that was about this big, which would have been a lot of American money, but Iraqi dinars it was only about $10,000, $15,000. And so they let them go, just like that. And I can tell you, if that money wasn’t intended for the insurgency beforehand, it was after that. So when I got activated, I got activated two weeks before we deployed, and I found out that what we were going to be doing in civil affairs was exactly what the president was saying we were going to be doing on TV, in terms of working on schools and mosques and clinics and water projects, and really rebuilding Iraq, and I was really excited about that. I thought we were going to be the tip of the spear and we were going to be leading the charge to rebuild Iraq. And we were six-man teams attached to these larger [inaudible] regiments or battalions, usually. And you couldn’t go anywhere in the Fallujah area without six Humvees and machine guns, let alone we were six Marines. So we had to beg these infantry commanders to tag along on their convoys to do our missions, and we found ourselves constantly struggling to justify our existence to them. And we came up with a slogan: “we care so that you don’t have to.” And to the macabre and coarse sense of humor, I know that to a lot of the vets in the room it’s pretty funny, but it’s easy to step back and think, man, we’ve got units in Iraq whose job is to care so that someone else doesn’t have to, because that someone else isn’t just those grunts that we were attached to, but it was everybody all the way up: we care so that Paul Bremer doesn’t have to, so that the chiefs of staff don’t have to, so that Congress doesn’t have to, so that Cheney doesn’t have to (as if he ever intended to), so—and so that the president himself can gush on and on about how much he cares about the Iraqi people while continuing a policy that is decimating the country.
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