Q and A

Peace activist sheds light on the Iraq War

Colonel Ann Wright /

Colonel Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army, including 16 years as a diplomat. In December 2001, she was part of the team that reopened the American Embassy in Afghanistan after the Taliban was deposed.

Col. Wright, 61, resigned in 2003 to protest the Bush Administration’s conduct of the Iraq War and the ‘War on Terror.’ During a recent visit to Hilo, she sat down with Hawai’i Island Journal editor Peter Serafin for an exclusive interview.

No matter what one’s position is on the U.S. invasion of Iraq, nobody thought we’d be in this situation almost four years. The Bush administration’s strategy has gone terribly wrong. What now?

I don’t think in the last year of the administration there will be effort to end the mission. The troops the administration claims it brings home are actually the surge troops, and is not saying they’ll bring all of them home. They never, ever mention the 180,000 contractors we have there in private security, which are essentially an extension of the war-fighting capability of the military. So rather than the 160,000 military troops we have in there right now, one could say we have over 220,000 when you include the private security people. Even with the reduction of the 40,000 surge troops we will still have over a quarter million Americans in Iraq.

This administration, from the very beginning, refused to listen to what the military and the State Department was telling them–that this was not going to be a cakewalk. Everybody knew that if you invade an oil rich Arab Moslem country, they’re not going to take it lying down. As long as we’re there the fighting will continue.

Many say that if we go now it will be total anarchy.

The U.S. involvement must be reduced dramatically and it won’t happen overnight. First, the Iraqis must determine if they want another foreign force in there to help them with security, or are they capable of handling things themselves.

Ultimately they will have to come up with a political reconciliation. I’m glad there is a reduction in violence, but one of the reasons that’s happening is we have helped ethnically cleanse certain neighborhoods. We are now paying off militia groups to further cleanse their areas. They’re smart guys; they’ll work with us, hold down the level of violence for sixth months, take the money and use it to buy more arms and they’ll be better equipped.

That’s exactly what’s been happening in Afghanistan. In October, November and December 2001 we paid Afghan warlords to do the fighting for U.S. forces. That’s why we were able to go in with such a low number of U.S. military. But the first group to go in and put Al Qaeda and the Taliban on the run was a huge paramilitary army of CIA.

In the same way we’re now paying off some of the Iraqi militias to stop fighting us. We’re buying them off. After a certain period they’ll say, ‘Thank you very much, we’ve got enough money. If you’re still here we’re going after you again.’

One of the four contractors that was killed and hung from the bridges in Fallujah in April 2004 was a retired Army Ranger from Hawai’i Island. We also have a number of our local police officers and county workers in the National Guard who have done tours in Iraq. One, who’s been in the Guard for over a decade, is trying to get out because he’s seen what a mess it is over there. How do we as a country address the needs of those folks?

It would be very useful to hold town hall meetings on the costs of war. Not a political discussion or whether it’s right or not, but what it costs our community in terms of issues of conscience. Some of our men and women in the Guard and Reserves have, perhaps, tortured people or shot innocent civilians. How do they live with this? Some communities have done studies on their police officers who came back from serving in Iraq, and found a level of post-traumatic stress disorder. They revert to the military standard, which is basically anything goes.

In Vietnam one of the things that caused the majority of Americans to stop supporting the war was reporting it on TV news. We don’t see that kind of reporting on Iraq.

We know that the Bush administration has put a heavy hand on some reporters, letting them know they would not be let back into the White House if they report on some things. The stations are censoring themselves because they say they can’t let the American public see this because it will disturb them. Well, they sure should be disturbed if they knew what was going on over there. When Americans travel abroad, BBC and Al Jazerra especially, will show some of the brutality.

But the opposition party is not doing much.

The Democrats have failed the American public for not ending the war by not funding it. They can’t figure out how to say that not funding the war is a policy consideration, not a lack of support for the troops. We know there is plenty of money in the Department of Defense budget to support the troops; the troops will not go without. This is the way we are ending this war.

Why do you think that is?

The story we get from Nancy Pelosi on down is that winning the ’08 election is more important than ending the war in Iraq, and is more important than accountability through impeachment. They’re willing to sacrifice 1,200 Americans and 36,000 Iraqis [the projected number of casualties at the current rate] to get to the election next year. Rather than saying, we ended this war because we know there is plenty of money in the budget to take care of the troops.

And the issue of accountability. When you have an administration that has been criminal in its acts, starting with invading and occupying a country that’s done nothing to you, to torture, rendition and eavesdropping. So why would they now back off on the accountability they’d been working so hard on when they were in the minority? A lot of people are really riled up at the Democrats because it appears they’re just following in lockstep with George Bush. 

Col Ann Wright and Susan Dixon co-authored ‘Dissent: Voices of Conscience,’ published by Maui’s Koa Books. The book features accounts of military and civilian government officials who have spoken out against the Iraq War. It is available at select local bookstores, or from [koabooks.com].