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November 23, 2009

War Grief in All Its Faces


by contributor Pete Brook

Under the Freedom of Information Act, CNN recently got hold of 23 hours of interrogation tapes that detail the actions and motives of US marines that killed three Iraqis in March 2007, dumping their bodies in a Baghdad canal.

The three sergeants were convicted of premeditated murder and conspiracy in a military court in Germany last year. The three are serving their sentences at the U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. First Sgt. John Hatley received a life sentence, later reduced to 40 years; Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Mayo, who had pleaded guilty, and Sgt. Michael Leahy, a medic, are serving 20-years each. Hatley and Leahy are appealing their convictions, while Mayo is seeking a lighter sentence.

Frustrating over military detention policy was identified as the central factor in the soldiers’ decisions to murder. The soldiers balked at the seemingly impossible steps needed to prove a crime and continue detention of Iraqis. Soldiers were convinced that (after inevitable release) prisoners captured by the soldiers in Baghdad would return to the streets, return to arms and fire upon the US military once more.

CNN cites U.S. military statistic stating that 76,985 detainees have been released out of the 87,011 captured during the Iraq war.

You can read the full analysis from CNN here. It includes a slideshow with photos of the canal, map of the area, photos of the military prison in Germany where the three soldiers are held and portrait shots of the men and (separately) their wives.

It was the portraits of the wives that intrigued me, however. Firstly, because they weren’t something I expected to see, and secondly because they are so similar to images of grieving family members.

What the photos demonstrate is that military families can lose their loved ones to circumstances other than death in the field. Not surprisingly, the wives consider their husbands heroes and not killers; they campaign for their release.

(Adapted from a post at Prison Photography.)

(Photos: From top, clockwise © Johanna Mayo, Rich Brooks/CNN; Kim Hatley, Rich Brooks/CNN; Jamie Leahy Derek Davis/CNN)

  • DennisQ

    For the sake of balance we really ought to be able to see the families of the Iraqi detainees who were shot by the three sergeants. Maybe if the Iraqi families held up photographs of their loved ones we might get some perspective on the moral weight of the entire incident.
    The people in Iraq are probably just as confused about our real purpose in being there as we are at home. Perhaps it looks to them like a colonial-style invasion and seizure of their country’s assets. Why wouldn’t they think that? It certainly looks like that to us here.
    I really don’t think Americans are entitled to presume that the people shooting back at us are necessarily the “bad guys” as the PFC in the video characterizes them. Are they bad guys because they are more loyal to Iraq than they are to the foreign armies occupying their country?
    The best these sergeants can argue is that they did what needed to be done. But if that’s the case, their attempt to portray themselves as sympathetic figures fails. Nobody’s going to accept vigilante justice as necessary.
    Incidentally, these guys were not green recruits. They were senior non-commissioned officers who’d been around the block a few times. They short-circuited established procedures because they thought they could get away with it. The Army threw the book at them, and justice was served.

  • Palli

    The first time war crimes occurred in Iraq or Afghanistan-years ago- the military should have enforced the law immediately. But, no, Rumsfeld YOU made the wars we got- a criminal enterprise that ensnarled everyone in crimes against humanity. Aren’t we proud…
    Multiply these three men by thousands of soldiers from these two wars. (Which ones will come home to act out their PTSD against themselves, family or society?)

  • nordmend

    dennisQ and palli have nailed it.
    “For the sake of balance we really ought to be able to see the families of the Iraqi detainees who were shot by the three sergeants. Maybe if the Iraqi families held up photographs of their loved ones we might get some perspective on the moral weight of the entire incident.”
    although it would be probably logistically and financially beyond the capabilities of BNN, this would be an excellent initiative – get those 3 pictures from iraq.
    a main reason folks, even those folks lining up for sarah’s and glen’s books, can support this war(s) is because the entirely one-sided coverage. our dead (or our murderers) are heros with warm loved ones, splashed across the front page; their dead are faceless, generic “insurgents” or “taliban” (even if they’re not). support the troops.

  • lytom

    “War grief” or support for crimes against humanity?
    or Maybe good Nazi wives would be great title…

  • jtfromBC

    Kim Hatley Wife of MSG John E_ Hatley – video clip
    ‘I am singing “That’s The Way It Is” by Celine Dion which I sang to the exceptional wives of Alpha Company 1_18 IN in OIF06-08 to help give hope & to remind them to lean on their faith and that this song could apply to any challenges in one’s life. I am experiencing a challenge now. My husband John has been convicted of Premed Murder, received a Life Sententce & was sent to Mannheim Prison on April 16, 2009. SFC Joseph P. Mayo received 35 years and SGT Michael Leahy Jr. received Life in Prison. Clemency is the hope and that’s the way it is!!!!!!!

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