Their mission? To tell the story of the war in the terms of those who have actually lived it.
"This is a moment when veterans won't let anyone else speak for us," said Aaron Hughes, an Iraq veteran who initiated the new Winter Soldier effort. "We hear from the pundits, we hear from the politicians, we hear from the generals, but we don't hear from the soldiers who've walked the streets, who've been there and know what it's about. We're the ones who can bring out the cruelties and dehumanization in US foreign policy."
Some testimonies will address acts of large-scale violence and human rights violations, while others will zero in on incidents that are often overlooked, such as racism toward Iraqis, sexual harassment of civilians and the military's waste and destruction of environmental resources.
O'Brien hopes that, through the medium of veterans' firsthand accounts, the public will gain new insight into the concrete abuses perpetuated by what may seem to be abstract foreign policy decisions.
Jose Vasquez, an Army reservist who refused to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been working for months on the verification team. The meticulous process starts with interviews, basic background checks and questionnaires, then moves on to incident reports and photos. Vasquez speaks with other soldiers in each would-be testifier's unit, looking for corroboration. The team is also working with the National Lawyers Guild to put together Freedom of Information Act requests about operations in Iraq, and with Iraqi translators on the ground who can sometimes find civilians to corroborate accounts of particular events.
Vasquez holds that only testimonies that hold up to the most meticulous scrutiny will be presented.