An Apology, and a New Writing Project
I must apologize to my legions of fans (all twelve or so). I’ve been extremely busy lately, and haven’t been posting as often as I should be. There’s no excuse, but there are reasons for this.
One, my daughter just had another baby. She’s currently with us while her husband is out doing Marine Corps stuff, so my house is full of kids.
Two, I’ve been out training. I recently attended a Graham Combat pistol course, where I learned some really cool stuff. A review will be forthcoming.
Third, I stumbled into a major writing project. It’s taking a lot of my time, because it’s extremely important that I get this right. In fact, it might be the most important thing I’ve ever written.
Here’s part of the intro.
You’re twenty three years old. You’re a lowly Private First Class with less than two years in the Army. You’ve been in Iraq eight months. Your platoon is overextended, barely able to cover all the patrols and static posts you’ve been assigned. Extra missions take what little rest time you have. Your losses have been horrendous; two men were shot at close range by a seemingly-friendly Iraqi, your platoon leader and a new man were blown apart by a buried bomb, one of your friends at an outpost was just killed and two others captured, tortured to death and mutilated. You’ve been living like animals, spending days at isolated, poorly protected, undermanned checkpoints where you’re regularly attacked with mortars and small arms. Your platoon has devolved into a tribe, where official leadership is almost nonexistent.
And if all that isn’t bad enough, you’ve just learned a horrible secret. Months earlier, some of your fellow soldiers committed a rape and mass murder. Two other soldiers knew but didn’t tell anyone. You’re aware that if you turn in the murderers, your life will be in danger. But you believe in honor and integrity. You do the right thing and report it.
Your battalion commander and sergeant major have just come to your outpost, demanding to see you. And in front of everyone, including one of the soldiers who hid the crime, the battalion commander accuses YOU of lying. He yells that you’re just trying to get out of the Army. He demands to know why you’re trying to destroy other soldiers’ careers. He brushes off everything you say, sends you back to your post, and his convoy drives away.
Astonished, you sit behind your machine gun watching the Humvees roll out. You can’t believe you’re being abandoned; you did exactly what you’re supposed to do when you find out American troops committed a crime. The colonel and sergeant major are supposed to have your back. They wouldn’t just leave you there, would they?
As their convoy turns the corner and disappears, you know, without question, you’re dead. The men you reported are combat-hardened killers. They raped a teenager and wiped out her family, including her six year old sister. Word will spread that you turned them in. On the next patrol, enemy contact or not, you will somehow wind up shot in the back of the head. You’re done. If the battalion commander leaves you there, your life is over.
What do you do?
What I just described isn’t a hypothetical. It actually happened, eight years ago, during arguably the worst part of the Iraq War. That American troops committed a war crime is depressing but not shocking; all wars produce crimes, and every army has men whose criminal tendencies are barely kept in check by rigid discipline and constant supervision. The unforgivable acts committed by Steven Green, Paul Cortez, James Barker and Jesse Spielman occurred when that rigid discipline and constant supervision evaporated; their actions have been well documented, and I’m not going to focus on them here. My focus is on the men on the periphery of the crime, and the astounding way some of them were treated for showing the integrity and honor the Army claims it wants to instill in its soldiers.
I’m a longtime cop, former Marine and currently serving Army National Guard soldier. I’ve been to war twice, and spent 2005 on a convoy escort team in Iraq. The war crime in question happened a few months after I returned home from that deployment. I had heard of the Yusufiyah murders, and thought one of the soldiers involved had turned everyone in. The case seemed pretty straightforward; some idiots committed a crime, one of them was overcome by guilt and said something, all the soldiers involved went to prison. Open and shut case.
But I recently discovered there was nothing open-and-shut about it. I was working on a story about two Iraq vets who had filmed an action movie, and one of them offered to put me in contact with his friend Justin Watt, who helped train some of the actors. When the filmmaker told me about his friend, he asked a casual question.
“You remember the soldiers who raped the teenage girl and murdered her family near Yusufiyah in 2006?”
I replied that I did.
“Justin Watt is the guy who turned them in.”
My ears perked up. I started asking questions. Wasn’t the guy who turned them in also one of the guys involved? No, I was told. Watt had no involvement whatsoever. He found out about the crime months later, and risked his life to report it.
I spoke to Justin Watt that night. He had only a small part in the making of his friend’s movie, and that part of the conversation was brief. When I asked if he was willing to talk about the Yusufiyah murders, he didn’t just say yes. He passionately gushed information for over an hour, and spoke with an intensity that displayed just how deeply he was affected by his experience. He didn’t sound like he was discussing events eight years past; he was more like a man recounting a tragedy that happened yesterday afternoon.
Justin Watt’s decision to turn in his fellow soldiers was gut-wrenching. The price he paid for his choice was steep. I was stunned at what I was hearing.
As he told me his story, I wondered, How the hell have I not heard this before? Why isn’t this being taught to every officer, sergeant, and boot private in the Army?
I’m really involved in writing chapters for everyone I’ve interviewed about this story. When it’s complete it will be published on Breach Bang Clear, and linked back here. I apologize for being so distracted lately, and hope you guys have a little patience with me. Thanks,
Filed under: Iraq | 12 Comments
Tags: iraq, veteran authors, war crimes
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