Don’t Let’s Let this Be Water Under the Bridge

This item, by a soldier recently returned from Iraq, is upsetting on many levels:

Better Angels of our Nature: Over the Bridge: On January 2 of this year, a team of soldiers in my brigade stopped a couple of Iraqis near the town of Samarra. We were engaging in counterinsurgency operations there, trying to stabilize the town so the area could begin to recover and rebuild from the rigors of war. And on that day, one of the men I knew and had worked with, CPT Eric Paliwoda, lost his life during a mortar attack.

Four soldiers stopped two Iraqis. In the passion of war, on a day marred by anger and tragedy, the two Iraqis ended up getting thrown off a bridge. The bridge in question was, if I recall correctly, about 15 feet above the Tigris. The river, at that point, was about 6 feet deep.

That much we know; that much is beyond dispute. Beyond that, everything is in dispute. A man may or may not have died—the soldiers claim he lives, the other man who was flung into the waters says he met a watery doom.

But there is one other thing that I haven't mentioned yet that is also beyond a doubt. No matter what happened on that bridge, the soldiers were ordered to lie about it. And they were ordered to lie about it not just by their team leader, but by the entire leadership of their unit, from their company commander all the way up to their battalion commander.

How do we know this? Because at the Article 32 hearing only 2 weeks ago, their commanders, under grant of immunity, said so.

It's wrong it should happen. It's wrong it should be covered up. It is very very wrong that the investigators should give immunity to the high-ranking officers in order to get evidence against the low-ranking ones and the grunts (isn't it supposed to work the other way? Prosecutors get cooperation from the low-ranking members of the conspiracy to get the leaders?)

There's more in this post besides what I quoted, which discusses the more general context in which these things happen, and that's upsetting too.

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3 Responses to Don’t Let’s Let this Be Water Under the Bridge

  1. Chris says:

    This situation is so wrong it’s hard to know where to begin. I’ll only put my two cents in regarding the effect of this on the performance of the Iraq mission.

    While it is fitting and proper for individuals involved in atrocities to be held responsible for their actions, I shudder to think about the message being sent where–and not for the first time in Iraq–people in a position of leadership dump responsibility for mistakes onto their subordinates. The fact remains that whether passing the buck here is appropriate or inappropriate, the troops now have little reason to be loyal to their superiors or to trust them. I don’t know of any objective and independent data following morale trends among our forces in Iraq, but I would be surprised if such actions will make our troops happier to be putting their lives on the line knowing their superiors will leave them holding the bag. This is a strange way to support our troops.

  2. Mojo says:

    I am so pissed! These officers should have been punished and the JAG failed miserably. I understand the concept of giving immunity for a lesser crime in order to convict somebody else of a greater crime (which flinging prisoners off a bridge undoubtedly was) but there was quite a bit of evidence in this case without the officers’ testimony and, even if there wasn’t enough, giving immunity to just one officer would have been sufficient and would also have provided testimony against the other officers. I’ve seen other cases of the military justice system covering for officers while I was in the military, but nothing this bad. Fortunately, the grant of immunity shouldn’t prevent miserable performance reports so their careers are effectively over and we don’t have to worry about these slugs in officers’ uniforms infecting more soldiers.

  3. Mojo says:

    I did a little more research and now I’m more confused than ever. An AP story states that the three commanders who testified had previously received Article 15s for the incident. Since non-judicial punishment is in lieu of court martial, I don’t understand why they’d need immunity before they testified. They couldn’t be court martialed because that would be double jeopardy. At least they didn’t get away without punishment and an Article 15 on their record should end their careers.

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