Camilo Mejia became widely known as the first U.S. serviceman who refused to serve in Iraq. The Florida National Guardsman had served six months in Iraq in 2003, and came back to the U.S. on a two week leave. He refused to return to his unit or redeploy to Iraq, and was convicted of desertion in May 2005. He was sentenced to one year in prison, and was released after nine months.
In August of 2007, Mejia was elected to chair the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).
Two years before that, in August 2005, Mejia was one of several IVAW members interviewed by the intrepid and oh-so-credible unembedded reporter, Dahr Jamail. Jamail posted comments about that on his website, under the heading “What Have We Done?”:
“I type furiously for three hours, trying to keep up with the stories each of the menshared….about the atrocities of what they saw, and committed, while in Iraq.”
Oddly enough, in that furious three hours of typing up atrocity accounts, Jamail didn’t manage to slip a single incident into his comments with anything like date and time, place, who was involved or what specifically happened! Okay, not odd. Standard IVAW operations. When they do get into details, they get, like, caught. Jamail continues, and quotes Mejia:
“Camilo Mejia, an army staff sergeant who was sentenced to a year in military prison in May, 2004 for refusing to return to Iraq after being home on leave, talks openly about what he did there:
‘What it all comes down to is redemption for what was done there. I was turning ambulances away from going to hospitals, I killed civilians, I tortured guys…and I’m ashamed of that.’”
In a July 27, 2007 PBS interview, a month before filling Jamail in on all those atrocities, Majia had this to say:
“We're tasked with—with keeping prisoners on sleep deprivation for up to three or four days. And we did that by basically—terrorizing these people, by—by treating them and keeping them in subhuman conditions. We kept them hooded. We kept them tied. And we created loud sounds by—hitting the wall next to them with—huge sledge hammers to scare them into thinking that they were about to be killed by an explosions. And we put guns to their heads and charged them to make them believe that they were about to be executed in order to "soften them up" for interrogation. And after talking to—people who are experts in military law and international law, that this actually constitute war crimes. You know, that these actions that we took constitute—torture against a human being.”
Note all the “we did” and “these actions that we took constitute torture...”
However, more than two years before, Mejia was saying very different things. The following is from a March 2005 interview with the ever reliable Amy Goodman. The heading is “Jailed War Resister Camilo Mejia on His 9-Month Jail Sentence, Torture in Iraq and Why He Refused to Fight”, although the word “torture” doesn’t appear in the article.
AMY GOODMAN: You said you did some missions with P.O.W.s. What?
CAMILO MEJIA: When we first got to Iraq, first we went to the Baghdad International Airport and then we went to another place... which is called Al-Assad...they had an improvised detention camp for the detainees...areas made by concertina wire, which is worse than barbed wire, and they had military police units bringing in detainees. And then you had what we call spokes [ed: spooks?]...they pretty much made an initial assessment, and they decided who was or who wasn't an enemy combatant, and then we separated these people...Those who were deemed enemy combatants were kept on sleep deprivation...the easiest way to do that is just by, you know, yelling at these people, telling them to get up and to get down...Let them sleep for five seconds, so they will get up disoriented. Bang a sledgehammer on a wall to make it sound like an explosion, scare them. And if all of that fails then, you know, cock a .9 millimeter gun next to their ear, so as to make them believe that they're going to be executed. And then they will do anything that you want them to do. In that manner, keep them up for periods of 48 to 72 hours in order to soften them up for interrogation.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you do those things?
[ARE YOU READY FOR THE ANSWER TO THAT?]
CAMILO MEJIA: Not really, because we weren't there very long. We only were there for six hours with these enemy combatants and it was during the daytime. Some of the guys in my squad did yell at them on my orders. They used the sledgehammer. I don't think they used the gun. But then we were relieved and then they were taken away. It was enough to see who was going.on...
No matter whether those actions, depriving people of sleep, loud noises, yelling or even cocking a gun to someone’s ear constitutes torture in anyone’s view or not, Mejia just said he didn’t do those things! He says that on his orders, men in his squad yelled at people and made loud noises!
And even earlier, in May 2004, Democracy Now! had:
“Army Conscientious Objector Camilo Mejia Witnessed Torture of Iraqi Detainees in May 2003
Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia faces court martial today for refusing to return to Iraq. He eventually applied for conscientious objector status in part because of the abuse of detainees he witnessed in Iraq, not in Abu Gharib but in another facility–Al Assad.”
Witnessed!?!? Abuse of detainees he witnessed? Years later and for Dahr Jamail this morphed into “I tortured guys”!
In mid 2005, Citizen Soldier reported this:
“Citizen Soldier's cooperating attorney, Louis Font, of Brookline, MA is preparing to appeal Camilo's conviction on two different legal grounds. First, the appeal argues that the court martial judge erred when he refused to allow defense lawyers to offer evidence of international law violations which Mejia had a legal duty to refuse. During Camilo's five months of combat in Iraq, he personally observed such violations on a regular basis. Therefore, his expectation of illegal orders was based on his actual experience--not on speculation.”
Note that Mejia “observed” violations and had “expectation” that if he returned to Iraq, he would be ordered to commit what he (supposedly) believed were violations of law. Again, nothing about Mejia actually doing these things, like torturing guys!
Jamail also quoted Mejia saying “I killed civilians”. Ready?
From the previously cited PBS interview from July 2007, here’s Mejia:
“We responded to a protest that was being held outside of a—a government building in Ar Ramadi. And we opened fire on a young man who threw a grenade at the compound that we were in. And this was the first time that I actually opened fire on a moving, breathing human being, and that as a result of that lost his life. I—I had been in the military over eight years. I was an infantry squad leader in war. And I can't say that all the training that I received in the military ever prepared me for that—for that crucial time in my life.”
[Ed: eight years in the military never prepared you to fire at a man throwing a grenade at you and your men? Is there a French National Guard? Continue...]
“When you return home, and you bring those memories, and—and you know that you've done these things, at least for myself it was really hard to conciliate that with the—the person that—that I was or at least that I was trying to be. It—it became just really hard to accept any justification for the—destruction of human life in war.”
Camilo, here’s the justification...that civilian?...he was throwing a #$&%& grenade at you and your men! It’s called self-defence! Mejia continues:
“The vast majority of the people—I mean, I'm talking about 30 out of 33 people that my unit alone killed are civilians. You know, you're not talking here about fire fights between the resistance fighters and the U.S. soldiers where one or two civilians get killed. And you can't say that because you signed up a military contract or but—that because war is ugly, you have basically a green light to commit all kinds of crimes. You know, I mean, the same thing could have been said by—Nazi soldiers when they killed six million Jews during World War II, that they too were following orders.”
That’s what Mejia calls crimes! The six week WWII action called Operation Overlord that began on June 6, 1944 (D-Day) killed an estimated 12,000 to as many as 20,000 French civilians. Most were killed by Allied aerial and naval bombardment. That also began the liberation of France, and not even the French call that an atrocity. Mejia conveniently overlooks that the Holocaust was intentional murder of civlians not related to the war effort, as opposed to civilians being tragically killed during combat.
So, while Dahr Jamail was furiously typing for those hours, documenting those atrocities attested to by the IVAW folks, any wonder he left out any - details?