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Winter Soldier: Jesse Hamilton

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ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: Jesse Hamilton was an adviser to the Iraqi army in Anbar province. Indiscriminate shooting, lack of discipline, and non-adherence to the rules of engagement he says led to a sense of apathy.

JESSE HAMILTON, US SOLDIER: My name’s Jesse Hamilton. I joined the army in 1998, spent four years with the 101st airborne division. I served as a 13 foxtrot forward observer during my time there. I got out and joined the reserves, spent about three years as a drill sergeant. And then I decided I was going to volunteer to go to Iraq and serve as an adviser to the Iraqi army. At the time I volunteered, I was completely against the war. I thought that it was unjust, but I thought that in order to help expedite our exodus from that nation, that I really needed to do everything I could and serve in any capacity I could over there to help that cause. And my testimony is just based on the things that I saw in one battalion in Fallujah, in the Al Anbar province of Iraq from 2005 to 2006. I did have the opportunity to work with a lot of the Iraqi forces that are over there. And if you want my opinion as to whether or not rules of engagement actually exist within the Iraqi army, the answer is no. From what I saw, the Iraqis show little or no restraint in discharging their weapons. We had some phrases. I’m sure that there are a lot of soldiers and Marines out there who were in the cities, who worked with the Iraqi army, who’d recognize these phrases. “Spray ‘n pray,” where the Iraqis would just start shooting and pray that it hit the enemy if there was one. “The death blossom” was also a term that we used regularly, because once the shooting started, death would blossom all around. I never saw any civilians get killed by these actions, but one instance sticks out in my mind. I lived out in the city the whole time that I was in Iraq and on an Iraqi firm base. And the enemy would take potshots at us. They would shoot RPGs at us. We’d get mortared. And as soon as something like that would happen, the Iraqi guards on the roof would just start a barrage of fire. It didn’t matter where the fire had initially come from, or even if it was just mortars or a combination, they would just start shooting. I ran up to the roof one day, and I was trying to see, you know, if there was an enemy, and if so, you know, where that enemy was. I couldn’t see any incoming fire at the time. It was daylight. But I did see the Iraqis just shooting indiscriminately, and that was normal. I saw a civilian just running, and the wall that she was running in front of was just being pattered by bullets. The Iraqis weren’t shooting at her. I know that for a fact. They weren’t aiming at her. They were just shooting indiscriminately. More disturbing than the lack of discipline for rules of engagement shown by the Iraqi army is their treatment of their own people. The Iraqis—and this is not to say that they’re bad; they just have a different culture than we do, they have different morals. I saw Iraqi soldiers just make the prisoners more or less run the gauntlet from the vehicle that they were being transported in to our firm base to where they would be questioned in the S2 intelligence office. Our job as American advisers in situations like that was to try our best to stop that, and we did. However, there’s only so much you can do. And after awhile, you know, I was almost like, “I don’t care. I’m over it,” when it came to that. And I tried to stop it, but, you know, I just stopped caring. It was their people, and, you know, that’s what they were going to do. I think it is very pretentious of us as Americans to think that we can go in there and spoon-feed them democracy and have them appreciate that democracy. I think it’s even more pretentious to try to go in there and to try and change their culture and the way they handle situations. I think that it is a lost cause in Iraq. I think that regardless of when we leave, whether it is tomorrow or in 100 years, I think that the Iraqis, as soon as we leave that country, are going to handle things the way that they’re going to handle them.

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