forget what war is about, what it does to those
who wage it and those who suffer from it. Those
who hate war the most, I have often found, are
veterans who know it." - Chris Hedges, New York
Times reporter and author of "War Is a Force That
Gives Us Meaning"
nearly 12 years, Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey was a
hard-core, 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.
Iraq war changed Massey. The brutality, the sheer
carnage of the U.S. invasion, touched his conscience
and transformed him forever. He was honorably
discharged with full severance last Dec. 31 and
is now back in his hometown, Waynsville, N.C.
I talked with Massey last week, he expressed his
remorse at the civilian loss of life in incidents
in which he himself was involved.
You spent 12 years in the Marines. When were you
sent to Iraq?
I went to Kuwait around Jan. 17. I was in Iraq
from the get-go. And I was involved in the initial
Q: What does the public need to know about your
experiences as a Marine?
The 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
What experiences turned you against the war and
made you leave the Marines?
I 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 upon
our checkpoint. We fired some warning shots. They
didn't slow down. So we lit them up.
Lit up? You mean you fired machine guns?
Right. 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
He spoke English?
Baghdad was being bombed. The civilians were trying
to get out, right?
Yes. 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.
You got to see the bodies and casualties?
Yeah, firsthand. I helped throw them in a ditch.
Over what period did all this take place?
During the invasion of Baghdad.
Lit Him up Pretty Good' Q: How many times were
you involved in checkpoint "light-ups"?
Five times. There was [the city of] 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. No explosives.
The reports said the cars were loaded with explosives.
In all the incidents did you find that to be the
Never. Not once. There were no secondary explosions.
As a matter of fact, we lit up a rally after we
heard a stray gunshot.
A demonstration? Where?
On 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."
Were the protest signs in English or Arabic?
Who gave the order to wipe the demonstrators out?
Higher command. We were told to be on the lookout
for the 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.
What kind of firepower was employed?
M-16s, 50-cal. machine guns.
You fired into six or ten kids? Were they all
Oh, 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
After you lit up the demonstration, how long before
the next incident?
Probably 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.
Well, I appreciate you giving me the information,
as hard as it must be to recall the painful details.
That's all right. It's kind of therapy for me.
Because it's something that I had repressed for
a long time.
And the incident?
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.
Uranium and Cluster Bombs Q: You mention machine
guns. What can you tell me about cluster bombs,
or depleted uranium?
Depleted 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
Were you in the vicinity of depleted uranium?
Oh, yeah. It's everywhere. DU is everywhere on
the battlefield. If you hit a tank, there's dust.
Did you breath any dust?
And if DU is affecting you or our troops, it's
impacting Iraqi civilians.
Oh, yeah. They got a big wasteland problem.
Do Marines have any precautions about dealing
Not 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 s---!"
Cluster bombs are also controversial. U.N. commissions
have called for a ban. Were you acquainted with
I had one of my Marines in my battalion who lost
his leg from an ICBM.
What's an ICBM?
A multi-purpose cluster bomb.
He stepped on it. We didn't get to training about
clusters until about a month before I left.
What kind of training?
They told us what they looked like, and not to
step on them.
Were you in any areas where they were dropped?
Oh, yeah. They were everywhere.
Dropped from the air?
From the air as well as artillery.
Are they dropped far away from cities, or inside
They 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.
Including inside the towns and cities?
Yes, if you were going into a city, you knew there
were going to be ICBMs.
Cluster bombs are anti-personnel weapons. They
are not precise. They don't injure buildings,
or hurt tanks. Only people and living things.
There are a lot of undetonated duds and they go
off after the battles are over.
Once 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 raps
on that. My understanding is Fallujah is just
littered with civilian bodies.
Reporters Q: How are the embedded reporters responding?
I had embedded reporters in my unit, not my platoon.
One we had was a South African reporter. He was
scared s--less. We had an incident where one of
them wanted to go home.
It 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.
I 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?
Oh, yeah. 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?"
Your feelings changed during the invasion. What
was your state of mind before the invasion?
I 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.
What changed you?
The civilian casualties taking place. That was
what made the difference. That was when I changed.
Did the revelations that the government fabricated
the evidence for war affect the troops?
Yes. 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.
Q: I 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?
There 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
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
What happened then?
After 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
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 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."
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.
Posted: May 18, 2004