Aidan Delgado says he once saw an Army master sergeant lash Iraqi children with a Humvee antenna. He says he watched a Marine send a youngster flying with a boot to the chest. And he says men in his unit hurled bottles at Iraqi civilians from a military vehicle.
Since he left the U.S. military in January as a conscientious objector, the former Army specialist has traveled the country, giving audiences a disturbing account of routine brutality he claims he saw during his year in Iraq.
His grisly roadshow has triggered two military investigations. It has also drawn a legion of critics who scrutinize his accounts for inconsistencies, suggest he is a liar and dismiss him as a darling of the far left. Some criticize him for waiting until he came home to report incidents.
"The time and place to have made these claims was while he was a soldier wearing a uniform over there," said Steve Stromvall, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Reserves.
Wearing a black T-shirt with the word "Peace" in English, Hebrew and Arabic, Delgado punctuated a recent talk to about 50 people with slides of gruesome war images. One picture showed a bullet-riddled corpse in a partially open body bag.
"The point of showing this is not to shock you," Delgado, 23, told his audience at the University of San Diego's Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice. "We don't have a really good sense of Iraqi civilians as human beings. It's not part of the news coverage."
Some of the pictures were taken by Delgado, whose tour of duty included six months at Abu Ghraib prison, where abuse of prisoners has already led to criminal charges and international outrage. Other shots were provided by fellow soldiers.
The 81st Regional Readiness Command in Birmingham, Alabama, which oversees Delgado's former unit in Florida, said it has launched an investigation into his claims. So has the Army Criminal Investigation Command in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
Delgado said he has given a statement to an Army criminal investigator, who took copies of some of the grisly photos from his slideshow.
Emiliano Toro, a former sergeant who was Delgado's supervisor in Iraq, said he was aware of the alleged incidents involving the children struck with the antenna and civilians hit with soda bottles. "I did see these things or I did hear about them," he said.
Delgado said he did not file an official complaint with his commanders about what he saw because he felt they were part of the problem and because he feared retribution.
"I don't want to ruin people's lives over something they did in a horrible, stressful situation," he said. "I do want people to know this is a part of war."
The son of a U.S. diplomat, Delgado grew up in Thailand, Senegal and Egypt, where he learned to speak Arabic. He was a 19-year-old college student in Florida when he enlisted in the Army Reserves. He signed his service contract on the morning of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He became a Buddhist before the Army activated his unit and sent him and 140 others in the 320th Military Police Company to Iraq in March 2003. Three months after arriving, he decided to turn in his weapon.
Back home in Sarasota, Florida, he resumed religious studies at New College of Florida. He has given free talks to audiences at high schools, college campuses and churches from Florida to California.
Delgado has aligned himself with the peace movement but has not joined the call for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. He said occupation is better than allowing Iraq to slip into anarchy and even more bloodshed.
"If democracy comes out of this invasion, then there will be some good to it," Delgado said. "But I just want people to know: Along that road there is going to be an enormous amount of brutality and bloodshed."
SETH HETTENA, Associated Press Writer
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