Bringing Baghdad to Denver Streets

Jacob Wheeler

Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War patrol Denver Tuesday.

DENVER – This is not street theater! This is real!” shouted a man wearing a baseball cap into a microphone as approximately 20 soldiers of the United States army – decked out in camouflaged uniforms and sporting expressions as tense as if they were invading Fallujah – hurriedly established a checkpoint on 16th street (the pedestrian mall in downtown Denver) around noon today and scanned nearby buildings and open windows for a sniper. Steps away stood dozens of police officers, arms folded, doing nothing.

Suddenly one of the soldiers announced that they were looking for a suspect wearing an orange bandana, who they suspected of planting roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs). At that the GIs began forcing nearby pedestrians face-first up against a wall and yelling at them to shut the fuck up.” One man was pinned to the ground in what looked like a stress position. The police officers, from Denver and surrounding towns, did nothing. They had been informed days before, one officer told me, that the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) were coming to town and preparing to engage in nonviolent street theater on Tuesday and Wednesday. The scared pedestrians pinned to the wall and the sidewalk, I learned, were volunteers. This was all just acting.

As the order came to re-group and move on to the next checkpoint, I recognized one of the soldiers, bushy-haired Jason Hurd, a former medic in the Army National Guard, who I had interviewed at the IVAW’s Winter Soldier hearings near Washington D.C. in March.

This is what I wrote about Hurd in The War That Never Ends:

Jason Hurd, an Army National Guard medic who served in Baghdad in 2004-05, said his unit regularly opened fire on civilians. After taking stray rounds from a nearby gunfight, a machine gunner fired 200 rounds into a nearby apartment building. Things like that happened every day in Iraq,” he said. We reacted out of fear for our lives, and we reacted with total destruction.”

Over time, as the absurdity of war set in, individuals from my unit indiscriminately opened fire at vehicles driving down the wrong side of the road,” Hurd continued. People in my unit would later brag about it. I remember thinking how appalled I was that we were laughing at this, but that was the reality.”

I called out Hurd’s name, but he was already on the run, up 16th street, ducking through crowds of delegates, journalists, Denver tourists, police officers … trying to bring the neurosis of war to the Democratic National Convention.

I’m told that the Iraq Veterans Against the War will march, and continue their street theater, tomorrow, following the Rage Against the Machine concert.

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Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at In These Times.
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