People for Our Government”
discusses the reality of being an American soldier in Iraq
by Paul Rockwell
nearly 12 years, Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey was a hardcore, some
say gung-ho, Marine. For three years he trained fellow Marines
in one of the most grueling indoctrination rituals in military
life: Marine boot camp.
The Iraqi war changed Massey. The brutality, the sheer carnage
touched his conscience and transformed him forever. He was
honorably discharged Dec. 31, 2003, and is now back in his
hometown of Waynesville, N.C. When I talked with Sgt. Massey
last month, he expressed his remorse at the civilian loss
of life in incidents in which he himself was involved.
Rockwell: You spent 12 years in the Marines. When were you
sent to Iraq?
Massey: I went to Kuwait around Jan. 17. I was in Iraq from
the get-go. And I was involved in the initial invasion.
does the public need to know about your experiences as a Marine?
cause of the Iraqi revolt against the American occupation.
What they need to know is we killed a lot of innocent people.
I think at first the Iraqis had the understanding that casualties
are a part of war. But over the course of time, the occupation
hurt the Iraqis. And I didn’t see any humanitarian support.
experiences turned you against the war and made you leave
was in charge of a platoon that consists of machine gunners
and missile men. Our job was to go into certain areas of the
towns and secure the roadways. There was this one particular
incident—and there’s many more—the one that really pushed
me over the edge. It involved a car with Iraqi civilians.
From all the intelligence reports we were getting, the cars
were loaded down with suicide bombs or material. That’s the
rhetoric we received from intelligence. They came up on our
checkpoint. We fired some warning shots. They didn’t slow
down. So we lit them up.
up? You mean you fired machine guns?
Every car that we lit up we were expecting ammunition to go
off. But we never heard any. Well, this particular vehicle
we didn’t destroy completely, and one gentleman looked up
at me and said: “Why did you kill my brother? We didn’t do
anything wrong.” That hit me like a ton of bricks.
was being bombed. The civilians were trying to get out, right?
They received pamphlets, propaganda we dropped on them. It
said “Just throw up your hands, lay down weapons.” That’s
what they were doing, but we were still lighting them up.
They weren’t in uniform. We never found any weapons.
saw the bodies and casualties?
firsthand. I helped throw them in a ditch.
what period did all this take place?
the invasion of Baghdad.
many times were you involved in check-point “light-ups”?
was Rekha. The gentleman was driving a stolen work utility
van. He didn’t stop. With us being trigger happy, we didn’t
really give this guy much of a chance. We lit him up pretty
good. Then we inspected the back of the van. We found nothing.
reports said the cars were loaded with explosives. In all
the incidents did you find that to be the case?
Not once. There were no seondary explosions. As a matter of
fact, we lit up a rally.
the outskirts of Baghdad. Near a military compound. There
were demonstrators at the end of the street. They were young
and they had no weapons. And when we rolled onto the scene,
there was already a tank that was parked on the side of the
road. If the Iraqis wanted to do something, they could have
blown up the tank. But they didn’t. They were only holding
a demonstration. Down at the end of the road, we saw some
RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] lined up against the wall.
That put us at ease because we thought: “Wow, if they were
going to blow us up, they would have done it.”
the protest signs in English or Arabic?
gave the order to wipe the demonstrators out?
command. We were told to be on the lookout for civilians because
a lot of the Fedayeen and the Republican Guards had tossed
away uniforms and put on civilian clothes and were mounting
terrorist attacks on American soldiers. The intelligence reports
that were given to us were basically known by every member
of the chain of command. The rank structure that was implemented
in Iraq by the chain of command was evident to every Marine
in Iraq. The order to shoot the demonstrators, I believe,
came from senior government officials including intelligence
communities within the military and the U.S. government.
kind of firepower was employed?
50-caliber machine guns.
fired into six or 10 kids? Were they all taken out?
yeah. Well, I had a “mercy” on one guy. When we rolled up,
he was hiding behind a concrete pillar. I saw him and raised
my weapon up, and he put up his hands. He ran off. I told
everybody “Don’t shoot.” Half of his foot was trailing behind
him. So he was running with half of his foot cut off.
you lit up the demonstration, how long before the next incident?
about one or two hours. This is another thing, too. I am so
glad I am talking with you, because I suppressed all of this.
I appreciate you giving me the information, as hard as it
must be to recall the painful details.
all right. It’s kind of therapy for me. Because it’s something
that I had repressed for a long time. . . .There was an incident
with one of the cars. We shot an individual with his hands
up. He got out of the car. He was badly shot. We lit him up.
I don’t know who started shooting first. One of the Marines
came running over to where we were and said: “You all just
shot a guy with his hands up.” Man, I forgot about this.
mention missiles and machine guns. What can you tell me about
cluster bombs, or depleted uranium?
uranium. I know what it does. It’s basically like leaving
plutonium rods around. I’m 32 years old. I have 80 percent
of my lung capacity. I ache all the time. I don’t feel like
a healthy 32-year-old.
you in the vicinity of depleted uranium?
yeah. It’s everywhere. DU is everywhere on the battlefield.
If you hit a tank, there’s dust.
you breathe any dust?
if DU is affecting you or our troops, it’s also affecting
yeah. They got a big wasteland problem.
Marines have any precautions about dealing with DU?
that I know of. Well, if a tank gets hit, crews are detained
for a little while to make sure there are no signs or symptoms.
American tanks have depleted uranium on the sides, and the
projectiles have DU in them. If an enemy vehicle gets hit,
the area gets contaminated. Dead rounds are in the ground.
The civilian populace is just now starting to learn about
it. Hell, I didn’t even know about DU until two years ago.
You know how I found out about it? I read an article in Rolling
Stone magazine. I just started inquiring about it, and
I said, “Holy shit!”
bombs are also controversial. UN commissions have called for
a ban. Were you acquainted with cluster bombs?
had one of my Marines in my battalion who lost his leg from
a cluster bomb.
stepped on it. We didn’t get to training about clusters until
about a month before I left.
kind of training?
told us what they looked like, and not to step on them.
you in any areas where they were dropped?
yeah. They were everywhere.
from the air?
the air as well as artillery.
they dropped far away from cities, or inside the cities?
are used everywhere. Now if you talked to a Marine artillery
officer, he would give you the runaround, the politically
correct answer. But for an average grunt, they’re everywhere.
inside the towns and cities?
if you were going into a city, you knew there were going to
be cluster bombs.
bombs are anti-personnel weapons. They are not precise. They
don’t injure buildings, or hurt tanks, only people. There
are a lot of undetonated duds and they go off after the battles
the round leaves the tube, the cluster bomb has a mind of
its own. There’s always human error. I’m going to tell you—the
armed forces are in a tight spot over there. It’s starting
to leak out about the civilian casualties that are taking
place. The Iraqis know. I keep hearing reports from my Marine
buddies inside that there were 200-something civilians killed
in Fallujah. The military is scrambling right now to keep
the wraps on that. My understanding is Fallujah is just littered
with civilian bodies.
are the embedded reporters responding?
had embedded reporters in my unit, not my platoon. One we
had was a South African reporter. He was scared shitless.
We had an incident where one of them wanted to go home.
was when we started going into Baghdad. When he started seeing
the civilian casualties, he started wigging out a little bit.
It didn’t start until we got on the outskirts of Baghdad and
started taking civilian casualties.
would like to go back to the first incident, when the survivor
asked why did you kill his brother. Was that the incident
that pushed you over the edge, as you put it?
yeah. And later on I found out that was a typical day. I talked
with my commanding officer after the incident. He came up
to me and says: “Are you OK?” I said: “No, today is not a
good day. We killed a bunch of civilians.” He goes: “No, today
was a good day.” And when he said that, I said “Oh, my goodness,
what the hell am I into?”
feelings changed during the invasion. What was your state
of mind before the invasion?
was like every other troop. My president told me they got
weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam threatened the free
world, that he had all this might and could reach us anywhere.
I just bought into the whole thing.
civilian casualties taking place. That was what made the difference.
That was when I changed.
the revelations that the government fabricated the evidence
for war affect the troops?
I killed innocent people for our government. For what? What
did I do? Where is the good coming out of it? I feel like
I’ve had a hand in some sort of evil lie at the hands of our
government. I just feel embarrassed, ashamed about it.
understand that all the incidents—killing civilians at checkpoints,
itchy fingers at the rally—weigh on you. What happened with
your commanding officers? How did you deal with them?
was an incident. It was right after the fall of Baghdad, when
we went back down south. On the outskirts of Karbala, we had
a morning meeting on the battle plan. I was not in a good
mindset. All these things were going through my head—about
what we were doing over there. About some of the things my
troops were asking. I was holding it all inside. My lieutenant
and I got into a conversation. The conversation was striking
me wrong. And I lashed out. I looked at him and told him:
“You know, I honestly feel that what we’re doing is wrong
over here. We’re committing genocide.” He asked me something
and I said that with the killing of civilians and the depleted
uranium we’re leaving over here, we’re not going to have to
worry about terrorists. He didn’t like that. He got up and
stormed off. And I knew right then and there that my career
was over. I was talking to my commanding officer.
I talked to the top commander, I was kind of scurried away.
I was basically put on house arrest. I didn’t talk to other
troops, I didn’t want to hurt them. I didn’t want to jeopardize
them. I want to help people. I felt strongly about it. I had
to say something. When I was sent back to stateside, I went
in front of the regimental sergeant major. He’s in charge
of 3,500-plus Marines. “Sir,” I told him, “I don’t want your
money. I don’t want your benefits. What you did was wrong.”
It was just a personal conviction with me. I’ve had an impeccable
career. I chose to get out. And you know who I blame? I blame
the president of the U.S. It’s not the grunt. I blame the
president because he said they had weapons of mass destruction.
It was a lie.”
interview first appeared in the Sacramento Bee. Paul
Rockwell is a writer living in Oakland, Calif. He can be reached
at rock email@example.com.