Saturday, September 05, 2009

The company he keeps





Leaning up against the back of the building we discovered half of a rusted Russian heavy machine gun, and another piece of a Cold War era anti-aircraft gun. No big deal, except both weapons had been used against our company two years prior during the retaking of the city of Baqubah. Pretending this find meant the IPs were doing their job and taking dangerous weapons off the street and not that they were the average two-faced insurgents, we rounded the last corner of the compound and headed for the front gate.

Thanks to the hand-tying status of forces agreement between Iraq and the United States, American soldiers are not allowed to operate in urban areas without having the Iraqi Police or Iraqi Army present. Exceptions apply, but they're few and far between.

By the time our squad had regrouped around the front of the building, our IA escort forces from outside the city had exited their humvees and stood around smoking and joking with each other. They were dressed in USMC desert fatigues, military body armor, and commercial tactical vests. They were also carrying clean weapons outfitted with modern American optics and flashlights. Apparently, Iraqi Army Special Forces are fairly well funded.

We passed them by and headed out the gate, since our absurdly strict platoon leader wasn't around to stop us. One lonely IP stood guard just outside the entrance to the station. He remained rooted to the ground while we moved past him and out into the neighborhood. We figured he'd count as our Iraqi escort if someone important came along. Crossing a small lot with a few scattered cars and trash piles, a pack of four or five dogs picked up our scent and barked to alert the area to our presence. We held up at the far side of the lot, less than a hundred meters from the IP station. A group of kids had been playing around in the street, but had scattered as soon as we left the station. In previous years, that was a bad sign. Kids scattered and plugged their ears before roadside bombs detonated.

This time around, it's a different war. "War" is hardly the word to describe the current situation. Anyway, the unit we're replacing didn't spend a single second of their tour mingling with the locals around this particular IP station. It had been months since the last American foot patrol through their village. They peeked around corners and out from behind courtyard gates. Families weaving around rubble and small rivers of sewage eyeballed us suspiciously, rarely returning a wave.

Two young boys crept closer, stopping about ten meters ahead of us. I motioned to them to come closer while Todd called to them in broken Arabic. Cautiously, the older of the two darted up to us. Todd pulled a pack of gum from his pants pocket and handed a piece to the boy, who looked confused but optimistic. Todd pulled out another piece for himself, and popped it in his mouth. The boy smiled and darted back to the safety of his house. When he stuck his head out a moment later, he was chewing happily and surrounded by a new group of local kids.

I motioned again to them, and a younger boy came running up over the broken bricks and dirt littering the street. I handed him a little pack of Sweet Tarts as my squad started moving back to the police station. He accepted happily and ran back to the house. I turned and followed the squad out of the neighborhood and back through the guarded station entrance, offering the lone IP a wave as he closed the gate behind me.

We walked up to the front of the building, wondering where our blundering platoon leader was. The Iraqi Army Special Forces soldiers were still lounging around, smoking cheap cigarettes in the scorching afternoon sun. Approaching them, they welcomed us with open arms and all sorts of broken English. Cigarettes were offered all around, we removed our helmets and gloves, and relaxed. The language barrier is always difficult to overcome, but through the few Arabic phrases I remember from my first deployment and creative sign language, we got to know each other. We examined each others rifles and pistols, resisted the pleas of the IA soldiers to trade watches and jokingly traded insults. An American private from Guam was played up as an Iraqi who forgot how to speak Arabic, and the sexual preference of all involved was questioned. Some things are funny to soldiers no matter their nationality.

That blog post was written by Jordan Shay who was killed while serving in Iraq. Yesterday the US military issued the following announcement: "CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, TIKRIT, Iraq -- Two Multi-National Division - North Soldiers were killed and five wounded in a vehicle rollover accident in the Diyala province of northern Iraq Sept. 2. ICCC is currently down [they note a server crash and that they are working to get the site back up] but the announcement should bring the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war to 4338. (It was 4336 on Sunday. ICCC was down yesterday and remains down today.) It appears the two killed were Todd Selge, 25-years-old, and Jordan Shay, 22-years-old. Frederick Melo (Pioneer Press) reports Selge was on his second tour of duty in Iraq and his wife Dellona Selge states, "He was definitely gung-ho about the military. He was going to get out. He wanted to finish up school and move back home and have a regular life." With her and their sons "ages 6 and 2." John R. Ellement (Boston Globe) reports Shay was also on his second tour of duty and had been engaged to marry. Marie Szaniszlo (Boston Herald) adds that his MySpace page has "a clock counting down how many days he had left in the Army".

July 31st, Jordan Shay wrote (on his Twitter accont), "I've been saying I'm ready to go, and I am, but it's amazing how fast the last two weeks have flown by." August 23rd, he noted "back in iraq for round two, probably won't fire a shot in anger all tour. sucks." In his last post at his blog, Shay observed, "We are respected in Baqubah. We are also feared. Our battalion has a fantastic opportunity to use these facts to our advantage and make a real difference before the withdrawal of all combat forces in the summer of next year. We made a difference in 2007, we could do it again in 2009. I fear we will not."

[. . . .]

Turning to the United States and what may be the only accountability for the crimes in Iraq. May 7th Steven D. Green (pictured above) was convicted for his crimes in March 12, 2006 gang-rape and murder of Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, the murder of her parents and the murder of her five-year-old sister while Green was serving in Iraq. Green was found to have killed all four, to have participated in the gang-rape of Abeer and to have been the ringleader of the conspiracy to commit the crimes and the conspiracy to cover them up. May 21st, the federal jury deadlocked on the death penalty and instead kicking in sentence to life in prison. Today, Green stood before US District Judge Thomas B. Russell for sentencing. Kim Landers (Australia's ABC) quotes Judge Russell telling Green his actions were "horrifying and inexcusable." Not noted in any of the links in this snapshot (it comes from a friend present in the court), Steven Dale Green has dropped his efforts to appear waif-ish in a coltish Julia Roberts circa the 1990s manner. Green showed up a good twenty pounds heavier than he appeared when on trial, back when the defense emphasized his 'lanky' image by dressing him in oversized clothes. Having been found guilty last spring, there was apparently no concern that he appear frail anymore.

Italy's AGI reports, "Green was recognised as the leader of a group of five soldiers who committed the massacre on September 12 2006 at the Mahmudiyah check point in the south of Baghdad. The story inspired the 2007 masterpiece by Brian De Palma 'Redacted'." BBC adds, "Judge Thomas Russell confirmed Green would serve five consecutive life sentences with no chance of parole." Deborah Yetter (Courier-Journal) explains, "Friday's federal court hearing was devoted mostly to discussion of technical issues related to Green's sentencing report, although it did not change Green's sentence. He was convicted in May of raping and murdering Abeer al-Janabi, 14, and murdering her parents, Kassem and Fakhriya, and her sister, Hadeel, 6, at their home outside Baghdad."

Green was tried in civilian court because he had already been discharged before the War Crimes were discovered. Following the gang-rape and murders, US soldiers attempted to set fire to Abeer's body to destroy the evidence and attempted to blame the crimes on "insurgents." In real time, when the bodies were discovered, the New York Times was among the outlets that ran with "insurgents." Green didn't decide he wanted to be in the military on his own. It was only after his most recent arrest -- after a long string of juvenile arrests -- while sitting in jail and fearing what sentence he would face, that Green decided the US Army was just the place he wanted to be. Had he been imprisoned instead or had the US military followed rules and guidelines, Green wouldn't have gotten in on a waiver. Somehow his history was supposed to translate into "He's the victim!!!!" As if he (and the others) didn't know rape was a crime, as if he (and the others) didn't know that murder was considered wrong. Green attempted to climb up on the cross again today. AP's Brett Barrouguere quotes the 'victim' Green insisting at today's hearing, "You can act like I'm a sociopath. You can act like I'm a sex offender or whatever. If I had not joined the Army, if I had not gone to Iraq, I would not have got caught up in anything." Climb down the cross, drama queen. Your entire life was about leading up to a moment like that. You are a sociopath. You stalked a 14-year-old Iraqi girl while you were stationed at a checkpoint in her neighborhood. You made her uncomfortable and nervous, you stroked her face. She ran to her parents who made arrangements for her to go live with others just to get her away from you, the man the army put there to protect her and the rest of the neighborhood. You are one sick f**k and you deserve what you got. Green play drama queen and insist "you can act like I'm a sex offender" -- he took part in and organized a gang-rape of a 14-year-old girl. That's a sex offender. In fact, "sex offender" is a mild term for what Green is.

Steven D. Green made the decision to sign up for the US military. He was facing criminal punishment for his latest crimes, but he made the decision. Once in the military, despite his long history of arrests, he didn't see it as a chance to get a fresh start. He saw it as a passport for even more crimes. What he did was disgusting and vile and it is War Crimes and by doing that he disgraced himself and the US military. His refusal to take accountability today just demonstrates the realities all along which was Green did what he wanted and Green has no remorse. He sullied the name of the US military, he sullied the name of the US. As a member of the army, it was his job to follow the rules and the laws and he didn't do so. And, as a result, a retaliation kidnapping of US soldiers took place in the spring of 2006 and those soldiers were strung up and gutted. That should weigh heavily on Steven D. Green but there's no appearence that he's ever thought of anyone but himself. He wants to act as if the problem was the US military which requires that you then argue that anyone serving in Iraq could have and would have done what he did. That is not reality. He does not represent the average soldier and he needs to step down from the cross already.

AFP notes, "During closing arguments at his sentencing, Green was described alternately as 'criminal and perverse' and deserving of the death penalty, and as a 'broken warrior" whose life should be spared'." Brett Barrouquere (AP) has been covering the story for years now. He notes that Patrick Bouldin (defense) attempted to paint Green as the victim as well by annoucing that Green wanted to take responsibility "twice" before but that Assistant US Attorney Marisa Ford explained that was right before jury selection began and in the midst of jury selection. In other words, when confronted with the reality that he would be going to trial, Steven D. Green had a panic moment and attempted to make a deal with the prosecution. (The offer was twice rejected because the 'life in prison' offer included the defense wanting Green to have possible parole.) Steve Robrahn, Andrew Stern and Paul Simao (Reuters) quote US Brig Gen Rodney Johnson ("Commanding General of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command") stating, "We sincerely hope that today's sentencing helps to bring the loved ones of this Iraqi family some semblance of closure and comfort after this horrific and senseless act."

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"

"War Criminal Steven D. Green sentenced today"

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