by Rania Khalek
On June 10, 2013, 30-year-old Iraq War veteran Daniel Somers killed himself after writing a powerful letter to his family explaining his reasons for doing so.
“My mind is a wasteland filled with visions of incredible horror, unceasing depression, and crippling anxiety, even with all of the medications the doctors dare give,” reads the letter, which Somers’ family allowed Gawker to publish. Somers went on to reveal the source of his pain:
During my first deployment, I was made to participate in things, the enormity of which is hard to describe. War crimes, crimes against humanity. Though I did not participate willingly, and made what I thought was my best effort to stop these events, there are some things that a person simply can not come back from. I take some pride in that, actually, as to move on in life after being part of such a thing would be the mark of a sociopath in my mind. These things go far beyond what most are even aware of.
To force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing coverup is more than any government has the right to demand. Then, the same government has turned around and abandoned me. They offer no help, and actively block the pursuit of gaining outside help via their corrupt agents at the DEA.
Though he offers no specifics about the abuses he witnessed and/or participated in, we do know that Somers was a part of the Tactical Human-Intelligence Team (THT) intelligence unit in Baghdad “where he ran more than 400 combat missions as a machine gunner in the turret of a Humvee, interviewed countless Iraqis ranging from concerned citizens to community leaders and and government officials, and interrogated dozens of insurgents and terrorist suspects,” the kinds of US operations that ended in torture and murder on more than one occasion. Somers went on to become a senior analyst with the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which is featured extensively in Jeremy Scahill’s book and documentary Dirty Wars, and not in a positive light.
What’s even more heartbreaking is that Somers’ says he tried to use his position to turn things around but the U.S. war machine wouldn’t allow it.
I tried to move into a position of greater power and influence to try and right some of the wrongs. I deployed again, where I put a huge emphasis on saving lives. The fact of the matter, though, is that any new lives saved do not replace those who were murdered. It is an exercise in futility.
Then, I pursued replacing destruction with creation. For a time this provided a distraction, but it could not last. The fact is that any kind of ordinary life is an insult to those who died at my hand. How can I possibly go around like everyone else while the widows and orphans I created continue to struggle? If they could see me sitting here in suburbia, in my comfortable home working on some music project they would be outraged, and rightfully so.
Most recently, Somers started Project Shai to raise funds for a unique documentary film about the Iraq War. “An Iraq War veteran goes back to Baghdad to share tea with and interview former insurgents – especially those with which he personally exchanged gunfire – in order to better understand what motivated both parties to join the sides that they did,” says Project Shai’s donation page. But Somers’ suicide letter suggests that the film wasn’t working out.
I thought perhaps I could make some headway with this film project, maybe even directly appealing to those I had wronged and exposing a greater truth, but that is also now being taken away from me. I fear that, just as with everything else that requires the involvement of people who can not understand by virtue of never having been there, it is going to fall apart as careers get in the way.
Somers struggled with a variety of war-related illnesses and was diagnosed with PTSD and traumatic brain injury as a result of his tours in Iraq. In his letter, he blames the military’s suicide epidemic on the U.S. government’s refusal to fully address and take care of its mentally and physically wounded veterans.
Is it any wonder then that the latest figures show 22 veterans killing themselves each day? That is more veterans than children killed at Sandy Hook, every single day. Where are the huge policy initiatives? Why isn’t the president standing with those families at the state of the union? Perhaps because we were not killed by a single lunatic, but rather by his own system of dehumanization, neglect, and indifference.
It leaves us to where all we have to look forward to is constant pain, misery, poverty, and dishonor. I assure you that, when the numbers do finally drop, it will merely be because those who were pushed the farthest are all already dead.
And for what? Bush’s religious lunacy? Cheney’s ever growing fortune and that of his corporate friends? Is this what we destroy lives for
Somers letter is a reminder that among the soldiers fighting US wars are good people who have been backed into a corner, forced to compromise their morals to fulfill the almost always nefarious operations necessary for American imperialism to flourish. And afterwards they are thrown away, ostracized for being weak and denied the medical care they desperately need to survive.
Meanwhile, the people that sent Somers to war and ordered the war crimes that mentally destroyed him are living in comfort, working cushy jobs at universities and having libraries built in their honor.
“It has been crazy . . . Daniel and I are private people and in the last week things have been ripped open and now everyone knows about how bad it has been,” Somers’ wife, Angeline, told the Phoenix New Times.
“I wish I could believe that if it had gotten out sooner that he would still be here.”