Return to Sender

Forty-five members of a U.S. veteran anti-war group threw off their service medals in a gesture of defiance against US military policy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during a demonstration at the NATO Summit in Chicago, Sunday May 21, 2012.

It was the first public mass protest of this kind since 1971 when hundreds of Vietnam vets threw their medals at Capitol Hill in Washington D.C to denounce the Vietnam War.

These medals “mask lies, corruption and abuse of young men and women,“ shouted Alejandro Villatoro, a U.S. Army veteran.

“I’m giving back my medals for the children of Iraq and Afghanistan. May they be able to forgive us for what we’ve done to them,“ said Army veteran Steve Acheson, before hurling his two medals towards the barricaded NATO summit headquarters.

The veterans were supported on stage by female members of Afghans for Peace and military mother Mary Kirkland, who held a photograph of her son Derek who was found hanging in his barracks, having committed suicide following tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For video of the event, watch here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ctEQqlf2xw

Photos ©Nina Berman 2012  All Rights Reserved


Dressing for a revolution

Chicago, Nato summit, the city enforces a several mile exclusion zone, leaving protestors with no target but the police. They chase each other in circles, a kind of urban sport. Frustration builds as those on the street can’t help but realize that their chants will fall on deaf ears. Trained for restraint, yet dressed to kill, the police are simultaneously frightening and absurd. With so much at stake — will the world’s wealth continue to be used for war and destruction — and so little hope for change, the events are more like rituals, with each side dressing for the occasion.

For an all together different edit, visit my work from Chicago on BagNewsNotes where Michael Shaw provides the visual commentary.

All photos ©Nina Berman 2012,  All Rights Reserved

Remember the Iraq War – Part 3 – The Refugees

Somewhere between victory and defeat is dislocation. The Iraq War, like most wars, creates refugees, which is a simple way of saying that millions of people were forced to flee for their lives. They are scattered around the globe, most living undocumented in Jordan and Syria. Several thousand came to the USA, a strange destination, as this was the country that started the mess in the first place. In 2009, I spent some time in one neighborhood in Dallas. Expectations were high upon arrival, but the reality after a few months was something quite different. They arrived poor, just when the economy had crashed, few had English language skills, many were traumatized by their lives in Iraq. They are given a small allowance for six months, and then it’s sink or swim. The people I met were terrified of ending up homeless or in health care debt. I wrote about it here .
All photos ©Nina Berman 2009 To see more images, visit

Remember the Iraq War – Part 2 Purple Hearts

In October 2003, I met Sgt. Jeremy Feldbusch. He was an Army Ranger, 24 years old at the time. Three weeks into the war he was wounded in an artillery attack near the Haditha Dam. Metal sliced through his head and left him brain damaged and blind. “He sees nothing but darkness,” his mother said. Feldbusch had been the first in his class of 228 rangers. At one time in his life he wanted to be a doctor. Filmmaker Richard Hankin made Home Front about Jeremy and his family.

Two days after meeting Jeremy, I met Sam Ross, 21 years old, who was wounded in Baghdad during a mine clearing operation. Sam lost a leg, half his hearing, and his eyesight. He had shrapnel in his body, and a hole in his right hand. He was living in a trailer in southwestern PA. His mother was out of the picture. His father was incarcerated for murder. Years later, the New York Times, wrote about him. I think about Sam a lot. I’m hoping to see him soon as he just got out of prison.

Alan Jermaine Lewis, 23, lost both his legs when his humvee struck a mine. He was delivering ice to other soldiers at the time. He grew up with an intimate knowledge of violence. His father was killed in a robbery when he was seven. His sister and his best friend, a 6 year old boy, were both killed by stray bullets. I always thought Alan joined the Army to save his life. His dream when he returned was to become a middle school teacher. It didn’t happen for him.

Jose Martinez, 20, was injured in Karbala, three weeks into the war when his vehicle hit a mine and he was trapped in the explosion. He spent a year at Brooke Army Medical Center recovering from his burns. He said the injury was a revelation for him. He had always been a “pretty boy” and relied on his looks. But now he realized it was who you are and what you say that’s important. Some people might recognize Jose. He became a

Remember the Iraq War – Part 1

Ever year since the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003, I have been making photographs, videos, exhibitions and books about the impact of the war as seen in the U.S. For those who want to revisit this history, I invite you to check this blog over the next few days. I will be posting highlights and summaries of these projects.

caption:
A Columbia University Law student screams in favor of bombing Iraq, at a demonstration held days before the invasion. At the rally, people held signs urging the nuclear destruction of Baghdad. Times Square, NY, USA, 2003
©Nina Berman, 2003, All Rights Reserved

Censorship and war reporting – Mike Kamber and Bag News Notes

“I think that there has to be an accurate, visual record of the war, and I think it’s going to be a much bloodier, a much harder visual record than the one we’ve been seeing.” So begins photographer Mike Kamber’s piece on military censorship in Iraq.

The piece was produced for BagNewsNotes and recently won Pictures of the Year prize. A contract photographer for the New York Times, Kamber has covered Iraq since 2003. Ironically, or predictably, the U.S. military working hand in hand with the Iraqi government officially and effectively limited coverage of so many different categories of events that by the time Kamber made this piece with producer Sandra Roa in 2010, nearly every action except the most mundane was off limits. “At first the car bombs were off limits. And then we couldn’t photograph hospitals and then the morgues were off limits. And then we couldn’t photograph prisoners and then we couldn’t photograph wounded soldiers.” The result, a war scrubbed clean to fit a narrative that demanded a happy ending. One of the most cynical bits recounted in the Kamber piece comes at .53 seconds when he describes the military policy forbidding the photographing of detainees: Tie people up, bag them, march them out of their homes, but photograph them, well that would be a violation of their rights.

Salee Allawe – Collateral Damage

On November 7, 2006 in Hasswa, Iraq, nine-year old Salee Allawe was playing hopscotch outside her home with her brother, cousin and some friends when US mlitary jets fired three missiles, apparently at passenger vehicles. One missile landed where the children were playing, killing Salee’s brother and cousin and taking both of Salee’s legs. Cole Miller, one of the most dedicated humanitarians I have met, and founder of nomorevictims.org, arranged for Salee and her father to go to Greenville, South Carolina where volunteers cared for her and doctors fitted her with a new pair of legs. I photographed her trip there in 2007. Salee’s now a young woman, has outgrown those legs and needs to return. Here are some photos of Salee three years ago and information about her on the NoMoreVictims website. All photos © Nina Berman. The entire story can be seen at NOOR Images

Burn pits – the story of Tim Wymore

The U.S. military has created scores of toxic dump sites across Iraq and Afghanistan. Known as burn pits, these trash heaps burn night and day. Lit by jet fuel,
they spew clouds of black smoke over US bases and civilian landscapes. Hundreds, if not thousands of servicemen and women are returning home sick with respiratory problems, skin rashes, and in some cases, tumors and auto immune diseases. Some have died. A class action suit against the company contracted to dispose of trash — Kellogg, Brown and Root and Halliburton — is proceeding in federal court. The suit claims that KBR constructed open air burn pits rather than incinerators in order to increase their profit. KBR is claiming that the military was in charge. The Veterans Administration has asked doctors to look for environmental exposure when determining a diagnosis. Veterans advocates are suggesting that exposure to burn pits may be this generations’s “agent orange,” the defoliant used in Vietnam which contained dioxin.

Here is the story of one veteran who worked in and around the Balad burn pit.