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November 17th, 2009
02:20 PM ET

Killings at the Canal: Holding on to secrets

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/05/12/iraq.mental.toll/art.hands.file.gi..jpg]

Abbie Boudreau
Special Investigations Unit Correspondent

A group of 13 soldiers left Iraq holding on to a secret – the murders of four detainees at a Baghdad canal. They were told not to say a word, and for nine months, they kept quiet. Then, one of the 13 soldiers reported the crime and the secret was out.

But what if that soldier hadn't come forward and reported the murders? What if years had gone by, and these young soldiers were still holding on to this battlefield secret?

Especially for the twenty-somethings who are fighting this war – how do they keep a secret in a day and age where people from their generation are encouraged to live such public lives?

They are taught from a very young age to "talk it out," and why it's unhealthy to "keep it all inside." And now, with easy access to social networking sites, it's almost expected for people to splash their private lives, and personal photos all over the pages of Facebook and MySpace.

We share our lives with just about anyone who will listen – we expose our fears, our likes and dislikes, and even our secrets to a community of online strangers.

Yet, for soldiers who might come home, holding on to real secrets – big deal secrets – what happens? Where do they turn? And how do the secrets affect them?

soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. Jim

    These MEN fight the war every day. They take sniper fire from Mosques, gun fire from crowds of people, yet they hold their fire.
    These MEN, like many soldiers find a home where the shots came from and round up the male adults ( 18-35 ) year olds. They say it wasn't them, yet the weapons they find hidden are still hot. So they wire tie them to a fence or to each other because there is to many to take with them. What can they do with them anyway. So our MEN take their weapons and move on, only to be shot at from the same house.
    The rules of engagement are just that, rules. Sometimes rules are broken, for good or bad. The people who write the rules are away from the fight. We all know some rules are just plain stupid.
    These men should not face jail.

    November 18, 2009 at 10:17 am |
  2. Nick

    As an American service member currently serving in the middle east. I stand behind my brothers actions. We are trained to do a job, it's not protect and serve, and it certainly isn't round up the guys who are shooting at us so tomorrow they can walk and we can play the game again. WE are voulenteer not conscripts, and we do bear a heavy burden but its our cross to carry. A war on terror or any conflict for that matter is not for everyone and should not be broadcast to see. if you don't like it don't go into theatre.

    November 18, 2009 at 9:54 am |
  3. Tom

    The sad thing about this whole mess is that the politicians make the rules and they have no idea what it is actually like out in the field. The general public stands behind our men and women in the armed forces. BUT we are sending our youth out to fight with their hands tied behind their back. We did not start this war, but I say the heck with being politically correct, set an example for the world to see that if you wake this peaceful sleeping giant here is the results. Does anyone think that this could (would) happen to Russia or China?

    November 18, 2009 at 9:49 am |
  4. Sgt. Morales (vet)

    What a shame, this is exatly what this guys get train for, to deal with criminals of war. We fail to see that this are not regular army soldiers, this was a ranger unit, this guys are the real deal. If you ask me, i give this guys two purple hearts each. You get deployed to battle, not only to deal with the terrorist but also the army burrocracy...They did there job. They had to make a desicion, to save many american soldiers lifes.
    I bed that if there where the capture ones, we will be telling a different story; adding then to the list of soldiers kill in this war...

    Sgt. Morales (Army vet.)

    November 18, 2009 at 9:42 am |
  5. Roman from Green Bay, WI

    I think the blame falls squarely on the idiots who devised the policies that made it impossible for combat troops to bring armed terrorists into a detention center in vain. They are not trained as police. In a war situation, soldiers should not be saddled with all the rules which apply to a police force in an American city. Knowing these men would be released and shooting at them again in a short time places an intolerable burden on the fighting man. Roman

    November 18, 2009 at 8:47 am |
  6. Amanda

    All this is very sad. Iagree with the wives of the soliders they r not criminals the are honest to god heros. the risk thier lives everyday to serve our country and try to do right. Why would they risk life in prison, not seeing thier families especially the ones woh have children and wives, then other to protect thir country and thier fellow troops. I mean come on give the guys a break. They were only doing what the were trained and maybe the only thing they know is right while they are over in Iraq. Im sure there have probably been other "murders" over in Iraq that are still hidden and being covered up. So if it is ok for others to get away with the "murders" then let these men go. They were just protecting thier country and fellow troops.

    November 18, 2009 at 8:42 am |
  7. ronvan

    What is sad is that for us, the "good guys", when things like this happen we are shocked and want justice! In combat our soldiers are faced with mili second, life or death, decisions, when the bullets are flying. Yet, because we are the "good guys" they are required to hold fire, identify targets as friend or foe, while bullets are flying all around them! A nice "clean" war where WE follow the rules while are enimies smile at you during the day & plant IED's at night, strap bombs on their own people, cut heads off of prisoners, etc. etc.. There is no such thing as a "clean/nice" war! And YES, when you join the military, no matter what MOS you get into, the bottom line is that, if the need arises, you are to kill your enemy. When a soldier has just experienced the death of one of his fellow soldiers/friends, retribution is a "normal" & understandable emotion. The ONLY reason that this conflict/war has continued so long is because we are the "good guys" , act human to our inhuman enemies, and then WE, our soldiers, suffer the consequences.

    November 18, 2009 at 8:37 am |
  8. Susan

    I agree that our soldiers are not born to kill, but learn to kill. Look at the TV shows on hunting and you will see at what age they are being trained, taught, and mentored to kill innocent animals. If they are capable to shoot an innocent animal, what do you think they will have the urge to do with a combination of illegal drugs in their system, which most of them take on a regular basis. They seem to get great satisfaction in killing things that are innocent and helpless.

    November 18, 2009 at 8:34 am |
  9. jake

    i am an infintryman and i think they were in the right.we go over there and we do our job but then we see the same insurgents back out there in no time and it feels like we are not making any head way and it is demoralizing.i think it was justice.most of you have no idea what we go through and the state of mind we have to be in all the time.i would be honored to have served with the men of that company and anyone who says differents has problems.

    November 18, 2009 at 6:06 am |
  10. Vikram, England

    Until America, as a nation, comes to understand that it shouldn’t be treated differently from the standards it expects from other cultures, let alone adherence to international laws and conventions, then it will continue to be viewed in the most severe negative light.

    What would Americans think if the scenario was reversed and it were Iraqis who ‘executed’ three US soldiers under similar circumstances? There’d be outrage. There’d be the citing of protocols, conventions, and the rule of law as the basis for that outrage. There certainly wouldn’t be any mention of ‘extenuating circumstances’ or reference to these men as ‘heroes’. It would be held to be a war crime. Moreover, America would demand the death penalty for the perpetrators.

    It is this disconnect that still troubles the rest of the world. As a generalization the USA not only doesn’t have the capacity to see beyond its ‘special status’ psychology, but it continues to see other cultures as ‘lesser’.

    Look at how many Afghan civilians have been killed, and are continuing to be killed, by American action since the invasion. Would this be allowed to go on if they were Swedish, Canadian, or American? Look at how Sarah Palin believes that Israel has the right to its ‘Living Space’ policy of building on stolen Palestinian land. Would the USA tolerate such a violation of International law if the land were American? Of course not.

    America, at some point, has to understand that the principles for civilized conduct apply to it as well as other nations, cultures, and peoples. And until it does its hypocrisy will continue to be condemned.

    November 18, 2009 at 3:07 am |
  11. Mark aka Peacemaker

    I blame the Military command for this, call it COMBAT MENTAL FATIGUE, you can not expect a soldier to have a break down after seeing some of the things these Terrorist have done over there. A mind can only take so much bvefore it breaks down, seeing people killed for no reason seeing fellow soldiers die for no reason,takes a toll on aones mind. Funny some of the things that happened in Vietnam were never known nor should they, combat is combat, thats where it stays, civilian people will never understand some of the things that happen in combat, the veterans of vietnam tried this and it did not help one bit..
    These soldier need help mentally, the higher officals will never admit to any of this, they haven't in 50 years nor will they ever..

    Things happen to a soldier when they see there fellow soldiers dieing in front of them, and get told you can not fire at the enemy cause its not a free fire zone,( the enemyt is firing from a vilage not more than 250 yards from you, but yet you can not return fire) I am pretty sure there are some rules to that effect in Iraq.
    So you tell me what you would do after seeing things like this..

    Help these soldiers get back the sanity they lost serving this country.
    This will not be the last of these things happening.

    November 18, 2009 at 2:34 am |
  12. Robert, Alabama

    There is absolutely nothing that lessens the gravity of their crimes. In fact, the national humiliation it has brought, and the number of terrorist recruits that will result from this, makes their crimes much worse than a normal civilian murder.

    Their actions will be result in the deaths of many more Americans. Their bullets will kill more Americans than their Iraqi victims ever could have.

    November 18, 2009 at 2:31 am |
  13. rj sarago

    I find myself thinking all the time and wonder does our country even care about our troops. I myself am a former Marine that's been deployed to iraq myself. Civilians will never understand what u see or get put through out in the desert. The part with the detaines being released is true. When ur in combat things happen I would truly like to see anyone that hasn't joined the military go out there. I'm not sayin what they did was correct but things need to be done.

    November 18, 2009 at 2:28 am |
  14. Robin, Ohio

    You sit here all warm and snug as a bug thanks in large part to what these men and women have done to keep you safe and you want to judge them? If they save 3000 American lives because they tortured an insurgent ........................... do you still disagree with what they do? What if 1 of these lives was your spouse, child or parent?

    November 18, 2009 at 2:26 am |
  15. WENDY

    Maybe the question should be, whar is the heck the matter with the D-Ha!???"?? Why would these enemy soldiers be back on the strets in just weks to maim and kill our soldiers. What the heck is going on??! Maybe someone should question the army about that. Quite honestly, if I was in their position and I knew these enemy were going to be freed, I'd have done the same thing. Seems the military were more concerned about the public mess they might be in instead of worying about their own boys out there, doing their filthy job for them. As Steve Clemmons writes, if we don't have the stomach to allow our troops to do what they must, and support them, then BRING THE TROOPS HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 18, 2009 at 2:26 am |
  16. Jared

    Out of 87,000, 77,000 were let go to kill again. WTH is going on over there. That is why no one should join the U.S. Armed Forces.

    November 18, 2009 at 2:09 am |
  17. Neva

    Hi,I believe that these Soldier's are Hero's! Any one that Give's there right ,so that we can sleep without worrying that another catastrophe like 9'11 won't happen again,I believe that we own them a true fair hearing.I know because my Uncle was in Vietnam and I seen,how he stayed all traumatized and hurt mentally of everything he seen and did.I couldn't imagen how devastated it is to see,all the inoccent people who die without cause.These men, leave to the Military perfectly normal and come back,never the way they left,some don't even come back at all,other's come back broken physically and mentally. How about explaining to there Family's, why daddy or brother/son is not coming back. Let's not judge,no hidden sin can stay hidden,it will all be revealed,so if they did wrong or right ,i believe it shall all come out in the open.my advice to America is to keep every Soldier in prayer's,And May God Bless America

    November 18, 2009 at 1:49 am |
  18. Izaac

    A war crime is a war crime! There will always be reasoning and justifications for why it was done, but that doesn't mean it is not a war crime. We will always have sympathy for our troops, but other nations will have sympathy for their own troops, and they will find justification for whatever they did. What makes the United States grate is ... "A war crime is a war crime".

    November 18, 2009 at 1:36 am |
  19. DiAnne

    It's WAR. The U.S.A. is the most civil when capturing a terrorist/prisoner. Yes, there are "rules"...I hope when my husband leaves next year for Afghanistan that he just remembers to follow the "rules" until his life is being threatened. Then do what he is trained to do...attack and kill. These men and women aren't just handed a weapon and sent to battle, they are trained for a number of confrontations. For God's sake...it is called war for a reason.

    November 18, 2009 at 1:28 am |
  20. Jeff Radcliffe

    These guys are hero's. They risk their lives for the people of the United States and this is how we repay them. Good god, have mercy on them

    November 18, 2009 at 1:28 am |
  21. Mark Hughes

    We send our young into battle and we place their lives at risk at every waking moment. We accept their death and the death of their enemies during a gun battle but yet we convict them for taking the life of self-professed enemies of American soldiers with the same bullets and call them executioners. Killing is killing. When is it all going to stop.

    November 18, 2009 at 1:24 am |
  22. John

    These soldiers need to be released from prison as they are heros not murderers. Not only did they save federal tax dollars in the way of housing these Iraqi insurgents, they save the lives of fellow soldiers.

    November 18, 2009 at 1:22 am |
  23. Joe44

    That was a necessary of war. "Free these soldiers immediately"!

    November 18, 2009 at 12:40 am |
  24. Scott halby

    They give there lives for are country! They Made a hard choice, but it was the right choice for there brothers & sisters in arms. You can't know how hard that was on them & either can I . I do know from there history they were good men. It ways heavy on my heart that I don't do something to get these 3 young men out of jail ! All of the USA need to do something!! This is not right!

    November 18, 2009 at 12:06 am |
  25. Matt

    The fact is, these guys all broke numerous policies and international law and they deserve punishment. Sure maybe they potentially saved lives, but we can not operate on the basis of probability, otherwise everyone of you can expect an officer to be knocking on your door soon because there's a good chance you could possibly probably likely imaginably assumably commit some crime and I just cannot let that occur.

    November 18, 2009 at 12:05 am |
  26. John

    Lt. William Calley was a lesson that keeps getting forgotten. Murder is murder, and Illegal orders are not an excuse.

    November 17, 2009 at 11:52 pm |
  27. Theresa

    Maybe our Government should change this law, especially since the Iraq Soliders don't repect our Soliders.

    November 17, 2009 at 11:28 pm |
  28. David

    I agree with Rory. So does my Dad. We just saw the report on CNN and were wondering why these men are in prison!

    If you have enemy soldiers who tell you they kill Americans, make bombs, and if or when released will kill more Americans....yeah, shoot em' in the head, heck, twice for good measure to make sure they're dead!

    This is a war. Enemies unfortunately kill us, we kill them. It's war. We just shouldn't take prisoners, we should just kill them.

    Thanks,
    David

    November 17, 2009 at 11:26 pm |
  29. Alicia

    Its horrible that these Men have to justify protecting their own. Those big shots that don't protect those soldiers will be judged by a higher court. My prayers for ALL soldiers, tears roll down my 43 year old cheek often for them.

    November 17, 2009 at 11:24 pm |
  30. Justin Jones

    I served with these men in Aco 1/18 Infantry and they are heroes! They should be released from jail as soon as possible! their will alwyas be casualties of war... open your eyes people!

    November 17, 2009 at 11:12 pm |
  31. Dianne

    I went to school with SFC Joseph Mayo and i believe as a militray brat and spouse that he did what was needed to protect himself and his men as well a protected us here in the United States. My husband has been to Iraq twice and both time I almost him because IEDs... Sending these men to prison and having them release because we can't convicted them right away is the wrong thing to do we have already lost so many good men and women something about this needs to be done.

    November 17, 2009 at 10:45 pm |
  32. craig

    God bless our soldiers. These men did nothing wrong! They were doing their job. We're at war! It's kill or be killed. It's a bad situation but our troops are there to do a job no matter what it takes! Those soldiers should not be in prison.

    November 17, 2009 at 10:40 pm |
  33. Cindy

    I totally agree with Rory! I can't believe that these soldiers are in prison for this! Many of us at home have not been in their shoes; I can't say what I would've done but I can sympathize with how they felt. Until we walk a mile in their shoes, we shouldn't judge them!

    November 17, 2009 at 10:36 pm |
  34. Max

    Wake up America!!! You send these guys to war and then put them in jail?
    Those terrorists use sniper rifles and rocket launchers against your soldiers and admit that they enjoy doing that! This is WAR!
    These soldiers might have violated some military "laws", but they definitely do NOT deserve jail or publicity like this.
    This is how democracies lose wars. You are not supposed to put your heroes in jail.

    November 17, 2009 at 10:35 pm |
  35. Cecil

    War is hell!! We can question every death as to whether it can be justified as self defense. I had a cousin killed in WWII when he was trying to surrender but was shot by Germans because they were not taking prisoners. Remember the enemy is trying to kill you and it's very difficult to always weigh every action you take before you act. Its very easy for you and me to judge them from the safety of our homes.......surrounded by freedom provided by the sacrificies of many of our military......past and present.

    November 17, 2009 at 10:32 pm |
  36. hakeem

    how can anyone justify their action??? they dont belong to militry or not even near that . they should be charged with murder and life in prison.

    November 17, 2009 at 10:21 pm |
  37. Rob

    The issues they cite regarding detainees must be acknowledged and rectified, and their sentences should be commuted as soon as humanly possible.

    November 17, 2009 at 7:40 pm |
  38. Annie Kate

    I've talked with many vets from WW2 and Korea and Vietnam – what these soldiers were asked to do in Iraq is not so different from what went on even in WW2. I specifically asked one veteran I was interviewing if he knew if this happened in WW2 and he said they never said anything directly about it but that you knew it was going on because the men detailed to take the "prisoners" back to the "base" got back so much quicker than was possible. I asked him how he felt about it then and years later – he said that it was war and that you did a lot of things to stay alive and keep your comrades alive that you wouldn't do in "real" life. He did say it saddened him that they had to do it but he did agree at times it was necessary.

    I hope there comes a day when its not necessary.

    November 17, 2009 at 6:11 pm |
  39. Darby

    In many states, a police officer can shoot a fleeing criminal if that officer reasonably believes that criminal will go on to kill someone. If those prisoners were set free, they probably would have killed more people. The way this act was carried out seems unsavory, but do not be too quick to judge these men. What would you do if forced to repeatedly capture and release a person who killed your closest friends knowing that he would continue when released? If this question does not at least give you pause, you likely don't understand the situation.

    November 17, 2009 at 5:07 pm |
  40. tim

    I remain conflicted on this topic. Being ordered to kill by your superior sounds very familiar to me (Germany anyone? They certainly didn't get off to easy). I don't condone the meaningless slaughter of innocent people in any way. However, this is war and if 1st Sgt. John Hatley was quoted correctly in saying "76,985 detainees have been released out of the 87,011 captured during the Iraq war." then there is a serious problem. I also read that the detainees were caught while shooting at the soldiers. If this is true I have no sympathy for the detainees. If this is not true, there should be repercussions for the soldiers actions. Regardless of their training, a solider knows right and wrong. “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” That is the honor code at West point and if you don't live by it you shouldn't be in the army. I feel that these men lied to themselves and their country. I also feel that they cheated the system in place for handling detainees. The punishment may have been harsh but the issue needed to be addressed in some matter.

    I do not claim to know all the facts yet and my opinion may very well change as I hear more about this incident. Regardless of what happens I believe that the men and women that make up our military are some of the finest people in the world. I will support and stand by them until I die. This is a true shame no matter the facts.

    November 17, 2009 at 4:09 pm |
  41. Anwar

    In light of the situation, we need to re-draw how we train our military to deal with current & future conflicts. Just because someone volunteers and able to fire at the enemy this is not enough. They have to know the culture of the conflict zone, asses the situation to the moment, better communication rather than trigger happy, separate the public from the militants or resistance and build local and regional support in the process. It always seem doing the right things ends-up creating more controversy at the end. Modern war-fares are very complex, using broad-brush to justify attack is dangerous. Just like Police operate in civilian society with more cautionary manner. Use of military like a global police, you want to take the bad guy out, but not shooting the civilian in the process. Old world mentality of war technique have to change.

    November 17, 2009 at 3:48 pm |
  42. Kelly

    I agree with Rory, these soldiers should not be prosecuted. Unless you have served over in Iraq or Afghanistan you have no idea what the troops are going through and the dangers that they face on a daily basis. As a veteran myself I am amazed at how civilians seem to think that they know what is really going on over there. The media usually doesn't report it correctly. Until you walk in a soldiers boots do not judge or think you know what they are going through or what is actually happening over there.

    November 17, 2009 at 3:23 pm |
  43. Dustin

    Unfortunately one of the guys involved in this is a friend of mine from back in High School, he was told not to say anything and now it is out in the open and his family is having to suffer for this tremendously.

    November 17, 2009 at 3:23 pm |
  44. Rory

    These Soldiers are hero's not murderers. They made a war time decision to save other soldiers lives by killing these bad guys. These guys are fighting a tough war and should be pardoned for these actions.

    November 17, 2009 at 12:59 pm |
  45. Jeremey

    Although they may have frusterated, there still are Rules of Engagment that need to be followed. It's just so sad that these men, who were heros, are now being put in prison because they had an enormous lapse in judgement in a moment of weakness that lead to the murder of four Iraqi Insurgents. War is tough, but there is no room for these kind of acts in the United States Armed Forces. It brings discredit upon The United States and undermines our goals in Iraq and the War on Terror as a whole.

    November 17, 2009 at 12:38 pm |
  46. susan

    By the way, to Claudia and others. We spend our childhood learning to be socialized, which means, at the fvery least, you do not kill someone with whom you have a disagreement or worse.

    We send these well acculturated men and women to boot camp to teach them to kill.

    To quote Joseph Stalin: A single death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.

    November 17, 2009 at 12:33 pm |
  47. susan

    An illustration of the necessity of Government/Social Contract – whatever you want to call it. This establishes Rules – of law, engagement, etc.
    Failure to have a consistent and workable Rule of Law (and application) results in the Law of the Jungle – aka Right Makes Might.

    This describes Iraq after the US Armed Forces deposed Saddam Hussein without institution of a replacement system (and further without acculturation to same.) This describes Afghanistan – after the withdrawal of the Soviets – and to a certain extent currently. The Taliban was welcomed because there was a Rule of Law. (Just that it was Sharia Law which does not necessarily sit well with Western sense of Law.) It was applied consistently. The current corruption within the Afghan goverment means thta any "Rule of Law" is a farce; that Money Makes the Rules.

    November 17, 2009 at 12:30 pm |
  48. Julie

    I agree with your comment Claudia. I live near one of the largest Marine bases in the country. I see fresh-faced kids come in, determined to make the world a better place, volunteering for service out of a sense of duty and honor.

    And then they're forced to do unspeakable things.

    We're wrecking these people, in the same way we wrecked the generation that went to Vietnam.

    If you think this kind of damage is survivable, then volunteer to minister to homeless vets. You'll learn a thing or two.

    November 17, 2009 at 11:58 am |
  49. Tim Gibson

    And we remain conflicted as to what are we fighting for? Outside of death what is the goal?

    November 17, 2009 at 11:19 am |
  50. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    This is so sad, our military men and women aren't born to kill, they are trained to kill and who knows what damage has been done to any of them.

    November 17, 2009 at 10:55 am |
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