During his tour in Iraq, Espinal was classified as a combat engineer with the First Cavalry Division. One of his primary duties, he says, was to set explosives to demolish buildings and to blow in doors during house raids by American troops. He says he was involved in a major assault on Fallujah, a mid-sized city about 70 kilometres west of Baghdad that was devastated by American bombing raids and ground force attacks that reportedly killed hundreds of civilians and left much of the city in rubble.“Our job was to knock down buildings, blow up buildings,” Espinal says.“We got orders to knock down this one building … and we found out the next day we had the wrong building. We had the wrong intel. People were sleeping in that house. It was a three-storey building. We were just told to bring it down.”
While it was clear several Iraqis died in that ill-advised bombing, such details were not relayed to the soldiers, Espinal says.
“We’re just told to move on, to continue with the mission.”
During the Fallujah campaign, the Sunday Times of London described the city as a field of rubble “stretching as far as the eye can see.”
A stronghold of anti-American, pro-Saddam Hussein Sunni Muslims, Fallujah’s pre-war population of about 350,000 was estimated to have dropped by at least 150,000. About 20 per cent of all structures in the city were destroyed and 60 per cent of all buildings were damaged, according to Western media reports.
But such reports were few and far between and only scratched the surface of the damage inflicted by American troops, Espinal claims. He says he participated in dozens of house raids, patrols and gunfights which caused countless Iraqi casualties and arrests, without once coming across what appeared to be a legitimate target.
“I participated in between 80 and 120 raids,” as well as numerous checkpoints, patrols and searches, he says.
“I didn’t witness anything that was (an apparent threat). I didn’t see any terrorists, I didn’t see any major weapons stash, none of that. Not one time. Not one time.
“They would brief us later and say, ‘we got somebody we were looking for.’ But they would never mention the name. Or, ‘we found what we were looking for,’ but we were never told what that was.”
Espinal refuses to discuss graphic images or details of individual deaths and injuries he witnessed, offering only a general characterization of the aftermath of his unit’s actions.
“Too many people take that stuff as entertainment. But what I saw is not entertainment; it’s not a movie,” he says. “A lot of people died, civilians, who were very innocent. I don’t want to talk about how they died and the embarrassment they went through.”
Espinal says his unit typically would conduct three or four house raids in a given night.
“It would always be between two, three, four in the morning, while they were sleeping. We would put charges in the doors to blow them up so a squad could go in and do the house raids,” he says.
“When you’re blowing up someone’s door in the middle of the night, if someone’s sleeping on the other side of that door, they’re dead. That’s it,” he says. “If a kid got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and walked by that door, he’s dead.
“Over there, a house is maybe two rooms, so if somebody’s behind that door when we blow it in, they’re gone.”
In most house raids, regardless of whether a threat was found, property was destroyed or damaged and the inhabitants assaulted, Espinal says. Men and boys – if they were at least five feet tall – were routinely taken to unspecified detainment areas, he adds.
“In one of our first raids there were four males and two or three females and we were asking, ‘which one of these guys is the guy we’re looking for?’ And we were told, ‘just zip-tie (plastic hand restraints) them all up and we’ll deal with it later.’ There was nobody (dangerous) there. But anybody over five feet and male, they were taken away. There was no saying, ‘he’s just a kid.’ It was, ‘he’s over five feet, he has facial hair, we’re taking him. That’s how it was. Or if they talked back to us, we took them.
“By the time the raids were over and we were heading back to camp, there would be six or seven or eight 50-tons (trucks) just loaded with people … You were cramming 30 or 40 people in each (truck), just thrown in there and shipped off, who knows where.”
In addition to setting the explosive charges to blow in doors, Espinal says, he often was called upon to take part in the armed raids of Iraqi homes.
“Guys would go in and just tear up the house – kick in walls, knock over shelves, carve up mattresses, go through their ice box or refrigerator. Basically, anything they had was destroyed.
“If they had any U.S. currency, it was taken from them. Whatever they had, if we wanted it, it was ours and there was nothing they could do about it. If there were males over five feet tall and we were taking them away, the females would be yelling about what we were doing with their families and we couldn’t tell them. Kids would be crying. It was chaos.
Then we would just take the males and leave without telling them were they were going. Then we’d go to the next house for the next raid and do it all over again. We would do three or four in a four-hour period and other units would be doing the same thing, taking places down like dominoes. That would be your basic early morning in Iraq.”
Iraqis who tried to fight back during house raids were either shot or “smacked down” and then detained, Espinal says. In many cases they were humiliated and abused in other ways, he claims.
“There are certain ways, in their culture, to treat females (but) we didn’t follow any of that. They got touched, yelled at. They got thrown to the ground. Mud, shit, whatever, would be dragged into their house. Their religious artifacts would get smashed up. I saw soldiers take out their Bibles and throw them at them and replace their books with Bibles and American stuff. I saw soldiers go into their refrigerators and take their food and bring it back to camp. When we were in that house, we could do whatever we wanted to their stuff and there were no ifs, ands or buts about it. It was ours and we could do whatever we wanted.
“Guys would be chewing tobacco and spit on the floor, spit on their beds, spit on their clothes, break their dishes, break their vases, rip up any paperwork they had, rip open children’s toys. That was a basic raid – going in there and just destroying whatever they had.
“If we were in a raid and there were children in the way, you weren’t allowed to tell them to get out of the way. You were not allowed to talk to them. If they got in the way, they got in the way. You threw them to the ground and zip-tied them and threw them on the back of a 50-ton and they were sent to, wherever.”
Invariably, regardless of the soldiers’ conduct or whether a threat or legitimate target was uncovered during a night of house raids, “we were told, ‘job well-done,’ ” Espinal says. “We were told, ‘we completed the mission tonight, we got the mission done right.’ Unless the mission was destroying people’s property, I don’t know what the mission was.”
Even in his eight-man squad, Espinal says, he was far from alone in terms of soldiers who abhorred what they were doing.
“Of the eight I was with, four of them did not agree” with the mission. “The rest of them were officers.” (h/t Michael Moore)
24 November, 2007 at 9:53 pm
You sir are a coward and have no right to judge any action taken in a military campaign. If the events that occured bothered you that much then shoot your self and you won’t have to watch it.
24 November, 2007 at 10:22 pm
Thanks for the stormtroopers viewpoint with an almost perfect 9.9 on the facistometer, I wonder why no one likes America anymore…