One early morning, exactly five weeks after Casey was killed, I was awakened by a disturbing dream. Casey’s father, Patrick and I had traveled to Santa Barbara for Mother’s Day that year to visit the Arlington West exhibit sponsored by the Santa Barbara chapter of Veteran’s for Peace. This was when we still believed that that our marriage was not going to be a casualty of the illegal and immoral travesty of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
After the initial shock of having a cherished part of me violently torn away, the story that the Army told us about Casey’s death did not ring true. When a former-Lieutenant of Casey’s called a few days after his death to express his condolences, Patrick asked him the question that had been on all of our minds: “Casey was a mechanic, what was he doing in combat?” The Lt. replied: “Didn’t you know, Casey volunteered.” That story about Casey “volunteering” never sat right with me. It did not resonate with Casey’s Chaplain heart, his reluctance to go to Iraq in the first place, and his vow before he left that he would not “kill anyone” because he could not. Then to put the icing on the cake baked with lies, when the Lt. and one of Casey’s Sergeants came to his funeral, they told us what a great mechanic Casey was.
This lie was the one that I found so hard to swallow. Casey joined the Army to be a Chaplain’s Assistant and when he reported to boot camp in September of 2000, he was told that specialty was “full” and he would have to be a “cook or a humvee mechanic.” Casey picked the specialty that was the least abhorrent to him, but he didn’t like it. When the Lt. and Sgt. told me that he was a “great mechanic,” I said: “Really, he didn’t even know how to change his own oil.” This was just a small matter, but if the two soldiers would lie about a simple thing like Casey’s job to try and do damage control, then they would lie about how he died, too.
Like I said, Casey had been dead for exactly five weeks on that early Mother’s Day morning in 2004, and I hadn’t dreamed about him yet. In the first dream, I was at an outdoor amphitheater looking at the stage and I heard a booming voice over the loudspeakers say: “Specialist Casey Sheehan.” I looked up, surprised and overjoyed that he was alive. Casey walked out on stage with a can of Diet 7-up in one hand and an M-16 in the other. He was wearing briefs and nothing else. He nonchalantly put his rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger. I collapsed on the ground screaming: “The Army made Casey kill himself.” I awakened from the dream and instantly there was an earthquake in Santa Barbara that shook our hotel room.
Of course, the dream fueled my suspicions that the story the Army told us was not true. Since Casey’s death, we have heard so many stories.
About six months after Casey died, one of his “buddies” came to visit. He said that Casey volunteered for the mission, and he said: “Sheehan you don’t have to go.” Casey said: “Where my Sgt. goes, I go.” Then this Sgt. claimed that Casey died in his arms. A year later, the medic who held Casey’s brains in his head said he was alive when he got to the medic station; the doctor who tried to keep him alive confirmed that story independently from the medic.
I spoke to two un-embedded journalists who told me that Casey’s unit, the First Cavalry, was on a “search and destroy” mission and after Casey was killed in the ambush, they went driving through Sadr City slaughtering anything that moved and strafing apartment buildings in the Shi’a slum that was built for three million people but contained ten million. Martha Raddatz, ABC correspondent, wrote a book that repeated the blatant US military lie that the Mahdi Army was using women and children as “human shields” forcing the US to kill civilians. First of all, “human shields” are not a very good barrier (unless the First Cav was using sling shots and pebbles). Second, insurgencies need popular support and do not benefit from killing innocent civilians, and third, the Iraqi people love their women and children as much as we do.
The “Casey volunteered” story was repeated in Martha Raddatz’s book and she got the info from the soldiers that were in the unarmed and open truck bed that Casey was in when he was killed — regurgitating the official US military lies. Recently this email was sent to my campaign office from a soldier who was near Casey when this event occurred:
I’m very sorry what happened to casey. I knew him I was in his unit and lived across the hall. There has been something I have been wanting to get off my chest though. Why am I hearing he volunteered for the mission. He was a humvee mechanic and he honestly sucked at it. He was a great guy but a horrible mechanic. The truth is that when the 1st sgt who was scared to go out himself asked for volunteers all the nco’s literally ran to the potapottys. Sheehans chief told sheehan to get on the lmtv. Sheehan said ” no, I’m a mechanic” well I remember watching ssg (XXXX) say” get your motherfucken ass on the god damn truck” and he literrally grabbed casey by his collar and dragged him onto the lmtv. Don’t believe me you better ask somebody. That’s also what I told Martha Raddatz but I guess for some reason she didn’t think she should write it that way. Well I’m sorry but if you were told different it was a lie. This is the truth I swear on my son. God Bless and good luck, [NOTE: This email has not been altered by me: CS].
Martha Raddatz confirmed that she was told this, but did not follow up because this soldier was “not on Casey’s truck.” This account of Casey’s last minutes of life upsets me so much, but this account makes more sense to me then the other accounts. The Army had him for almost four years, but I had him for 24 years.
Iraq Vets Against the War is holding a “Winter Soldier” event soon, and they will recount stories of how they participated in war crimes or witnessed war crimes, which is not in dispute because the entire invasion and occupation is a war crime. These young people came home alive and many of them will have to deal with their demons forever as my Vietnam veteran friends still do, but we families of soldiers who were killed will also be haunted by things we know and things we will never know or never know for sure. The stories of military neglect, abuse (sexual, physical, mental, emotional) or lies are almost as many as there are troops: living or dead.
Casey joined the US Army to be a Chaplain’s Assistant, was made a mechanic, then died five days after deployment as a very reluctant infantry soldier who had never been trained in urban guerrilla warfare. Do I want to sue someone for the wrongful death of my son caused by the criminal behavior of his Commander in Chief and for the cowardice and blood-lust exhibited by Casey’s superiors in the First Cavalry? Of course I do, not to bring Casey back (obviously) but to prevent future heartache and frustration. We families cannot sue because of the “Ferris Doctrine” which prohibits soldiers or family members from suing the government if a soldier is harmed or killed while in service… even for “gross negligence.”
If we cannot sue the military or government, I want to propose a “Casey Sheehan Doctrine” that will read something like this:
Whereas, citizens of the United States have basic and profound legal rights protected by this country’s Constitution, irrespective of enacted laws or executive orders, past, present, and future, that violate, weaken, or render nil the very core of those rights, and
Whereas, US citizens serving in the US military, and by virtue of military unilateral enlistment contracts, are by default denied these basic legal rights afforded others of the citizenry, and
Whereas, wars of aggression, imperialist in nature, unprovoked in substance, and profitable by design have been deemed illegal globally, and immoral universally; and that the purveyors of such atrocious events are to be held in contempt of humanity for their crimes of war, and
Whereas, the only justifiable use of force is for protective purposes, for life, liberty, and property, the last of which may be construed to mean one’s country in a broader sense, and
Whereas, any member of the US military has the legal and moral responsibility to refuse any order that is illegal or immoral in nature, especially one that may constitute a crime against humanity, and
Whereas, the US invasion/occupation of the country of Iraq, known as the Iraq War, soon into its sixth year of prosecution, has been shown to have been caused directly on the basis of lies, deceit, manipulation and duplicity on the part of the Executive branch of the government of the United States, and the acquiescence of the US Congress, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED, that all members of the US military war machine–soldiers, marines, airmen and women, and sailors–and those adjunct to them, are called upon to follow their conscience in all matters relating to their military service; and such persons should refuse any orders that might contradict matters of conscience, morality, or law, and further
BE IT RESOLVED, that those in uniform, and families, friends, advocates, and others, of those who serve their country will seek redress for any wrongdoing, abuse, mistreatment, injury, or death upon their person; and this justice should be pursued by any means available, legal and otherwise, up to and including acts of civil disobedience.
Resolved this day of March 5, 2008