War Crimes, Hard Choices, and Harder Consequences: Part IV


In Part III, Justin Watt had just secretly reported his platoon mates for rape and murder, and desperately hoped he wouldn’t be found out. https://chrishernandezauthor.com/2014/08/06/war-crimes-hard-choices-and-harder-consequences-part-iii/


A first platoon soldier on patrol

A first platoon soldier on patrol

The day after John Diem’s report was forwarded to the company commander, the battalion commander and sergeant major went to the checkpoints where Cortez, Barker and Spielman were assigned. Colonel Kunk questioned them about the reported crime. All denied any knowledge or involvement. Then Kunk and the sergeant major went to Watt’s patrol base. Yribe was also there. Watt, on duty behind a machine gun in a Humvee turret, watched Kunk’s convoy drive in. He was scared out of his mind, hoping he wasn’t about to get outed.

“PFC Watt!”

Oh, shit. He climbed out of the turret and jogged to Colonel Kunk and the sergeant major. They took him to a small, dank room in a dilapidated building. The colonel and sergeant major sat on MRE boxes, but told Watt to stay at attention. A few soldiers at the checkpoint watched what happened next.

Kunk screamed that he should charge Watt with filing a false report. He accused Watt of trying to get out of the Army. He asked why Watt wanted to ruin his fellow soldiers’ careers. He and the sergeant major said Watt was just repeating third-hand information and had no idea what he was talking about.

Watt was sweating bullets. He knew that Yribe was standing behind him, watching it all. He desperately tried to explain to Colonel Kunk why he reported the war crime, and why he believed his squad mates were guilty. Kunk brusquely told Watt to shut up and go back to his post.

Incredulous at what had just happened, Watt slunk back to the Humvee. He watched the battalion commander load up with his convoy. The vehicles drove out the gate, turned the corner and disappeared.

The exact thing that Watt had been afraid of had happened. He had been publicly identified, then abandoned. Word would spread. Retaliation was almost certain.

“I can’t explain to you how I felt watching that convoy drive away,” Watt told me. “I thought I was a dead man.”

But then Watt heard a voice on the radio. Sergeant John Diem, at another checkpoint just down the road, had seen the convoy leaving the patrol base. The twenty-three year old junior sergeant, who wasn’t Watt’s team leader and wasn’t responsible for him, had done his job and reported the crime. The platoon sergeant and platoon leader had in turn pushed the information. The company commander had sent the report up the chain. But Diem wasn’t at all sure Colonel Kunk had done his job.

Diem keyed up and bluntly asked the battalion commander a question.

“Do you have Watt in your convoy?”

Colonel Kunk replied that he didn’t.

“You have to go back and get him. If you leave him there, they’ll kill him.”

Watt heard the radio traffic. He remembers that moment as a life-changing event. “Man, I’ll tell you something,” Watt says. “John Diem didn’t have to make that call, but he did. He’ll always be my hero for that.”

Kunk turned the convoy around and pulled Watt out of the patrol base. He had to leave two soldiers behind to make room, which is something Watt is still furious about. “He had no intention of taking me out of there. He didn’t have a single empty seat in his convoy. He was going to ask a few questions, call me a liar, and leave me there with the guys I had just reported for murder.”

Of all the shocking, horrible aspects to this story, Colonel Kunk’s decision to leave Watt at the patrol base stands out as one of the worst. As a leader, I can’t imagine leaving a soldier with the same people he just turned in for murder. I’ve asked several other senior enlisted men and officers what they would have done. Every single one said a soldier reporting something like this must be immediately shielded from the people he’s accusing. Even if the report is false, the whistleblower still has to be protected. If Colonel Kunk had heard this report ten minutes after he watched a captured insurgent video showing insurgents murdering the Iraqi family, even if he knew with 100% certainty that his soldiers didn’t do it, he still should have known that Watt’s life would be in danger for making the accusation.

And I don’t get why Kunk would even investigate this accusation himself. I understand trying to determine if what’s been reported is an actual crime; for example, if a soldier reports that someone from his unit sexually harassed another soldier, a commander might try to determine if what happened actually meets the definition of sexual harassment. But in this case, the incident reported was obviously a crime. There was no question it had occurred. The soldiers accused could realistically have done it. So why didn’t Kunk immediately turn it over to the Army’s criminal investigators?

I’d guess Kunk was already feeling the heat. His battalion had suffered an inordinate number of losses. Two of his soldiers had just been abducted, arguably because security at their site was so poor (and at this point Kunk was claiming he didn’t know how poor their security had been, even though he had seen the company’s personnel reports showing how many soldiers were at each checkpoint and had driven through that position more than a dozen times). On top of all the other black marks on his record, having soldiers under his command exposed for committing a war crime would make him look like he had lost control of his unit. So I’d bet he was simply making a show of “investigating” the crime, giving himself plausible deniability. “Oh, yes sir, I’m aware of that report. I already looked into it, it wasn’t credible.”

And the cynical, jaded part of me wouldn’t be surprised if someone just wanted the problem to magically disappear.

Read the rest at http://www.breachbangclear.com/war-crimes-hard-choices-and-harder-consequences-part-iv/


One Response to “War Crimes, Hard Choices, and Harder Consequences: Part IV”

  1. I generally live by a code that has seen me through a lot of confusing times, that tells me to never attribute to malice, that which can more adequately be explained by stupidity.

    That being said, this Colonel would have had to be monumentally stupid to not see the reality of this situation. Monumentally.

    In this case, I can’t see anything other than malice, which is why I’m glad you named him, shamed him, and made certain that you discussed his motives behind essentially punching the ticket of one of his own soldiers for no good reason.

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