Monday, March 17, 2008

Winter Soldier II: Breaking the Silence

Last weekend a new generation of veterans, convened by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) gathered for "Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan," powerful hearings on the current occupations. Jeff Cohen, founder of FAIR, called the event a “victory for independent media.” Modeled after the original Winter Soldier hearings about the Vietnam War in 1971, the 2008 hearings revealed the real experiences of U.S. troops. Soldiers spoke of Iraqi families cut down by machine fire at checkpoints, of torture and abuse, and racism and sexism directed at the occupied peoples and US troops.

The hearings opened at the end of a week in which 12 US soldiers died in Iraq, pushing the total to just under 4,000 on the fifth anniversary of the invasion. For the most part, the mainstream media ignored the groundbreaking event. As of March 17, CNN, FOX News, ABC News, CBS, and MSNBC had provided no coverage.

Free Speech TV, the national satellite network, broadcast testimony and interviews with vets and their families, Democracy Now! devoted its Friday show to coverage and analysis, and Pacifica Radio made a live broadcast on KPFA available to stations nationwide. YouTube's "Real News Network has posted excerpts. According to Wired, if videos by soldiers, family members, and the media reach enough people they could reignite the debate over US military conduct.

KPFA launched its Internet-based War Comes Home project late last year to “put a human face” on the Iraq war. In covering the hearings, the plan was to suspend regular KPFA programming March 14-16 to broadcast the historic gathering held near Washington, DC at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland and make a live web-stream available worldwide.

The event also revealed Pacifica's continuing struggle over how to handle special national broadcasts. Decisions on whether and how to air the hearings were handled by individual Pacifica stations. As a result WBAI broadcast the first day but not Saturday and Sunday, while other stations selected parts during the three days. Some local listeners were disappointed. One noted that “we told many people to tune to WBAI to listen to the hearings over the weekend. It was a golden opportunity for WBAI to distinguish itself from the corporate media, which as expected, virtually ignored the IVAW.”

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