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Anatomy of a War Crime - Operation Iron Triangle

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posted on Jun, 30 2009 @ 04:31 PM
We often wonder how, during the course of war, can soldiers come to rationalize some of the terrible actions they exact.

Surely war IS hell and the fog of it is thick.

But what specifically triggers good men to do terrible things?

Meet Army Colonel Michael Dane Steele:

ABSTRACT: A REPORTER AT LARGE about the fatal shooting of eight Iraqi men during a U.S. Army-led mission called Operation Iron Triangle in May of 2006. Writer tells about Army Colonel Michael Dane Steele, a veteran of actions in Somalia and Bosnia and the commanding officer of Operation Iron Triangle. When Steele landed in Iraq, he was the only brigade commander there to have experienced sustained urban warfare before 9/11. He arrived with a clear sense of purpose: to subdue violence with violence, to hunt down and kill insurgents. A number of soldiers, among them General Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s Vice-Chief of Staff, believe that Steele set the conditions for a massacre by cultivating aggressiveness in his soldiers, and by interpreting the rules of engagement in a way that made the killing of noncombatants more likely. Steele has since entered Army folklore as a cautionary figure. The debate over Steele’s leadership touches on larger questions about modern warfare: about the distinction between killing and murder on the battlefield. As Major General Michael Oates told the writer, “The story of Colonel Steele and Operation Iron Triangle is about a fundamental difference of opinion about how to prosecute the war in Iraq.” Tells about the third brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, which Steele commanded. Its members are known as Rakkasans, and have a reputation for aggressiveness and individual initiative. Describes how Steele prepared his men for combat in Iraq. Steele believed that since the end of the Cold War the Army had placed too many nonmilitary burdens on soldiers. He wanted to make his men skilled at killing but also capable of restraint. He told his men to think of themselves as apex predators (“If you mess with me, I will eat you.”), but also called them “sheepdogs”—creatures bred to protect the defenseless. Discusses how Steele’s ideas ran contrary to those of Chiarelli, who placed an emphasis on civil outreach and reconstruction in Iraq. Describes the difficulties faced by U.S. soldiers in the Salah ad Din province where Steele and his men were deployed. Tells about Steele’s most daring unit, Charlie Company, its commanding officer, Captain Daniel Hart, and its ranking non-commissioned officer, First Sergeant Eric Geressy. After a few months in Samarra, Charlie Company became known to some soldiers as the Kill Company. Some of the company’s own soldiers were disturbed by the emphasis on killing. Discusses the Army’s rules of engagement in Iraq and the use of status-based targeting by Steele’s men. Tells about Steele’s obsession with the idea of killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his preparations for Operation Iron Triangle, an assault on an area near the Al Muthanna chemical-weapons complex where, intelligence suggested, insurgents were operating. Describes the assault in detail and relates the conflicting accounts of how the eight Iraqis came to be killed. Tells about the findings of Brigadier General Thomas Maffey’s investigation into the operation and the hearings convened for the soldiers involved in some of the killings. Steele was formally reprimanded by General Chiarelli. Describes Steele’s devotion to his men and his focus on their safety in combat. Quotes from a speech about the Army given by Steele earlier this year at the Georgia Farm Bureau.
the newyorker

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I am not and have never been a soldier.
Nor is this thread meant as an indictment or generalization about soldiers.

In fact it is quite the opposite ...

A true story of good men led by a misguided and cruel commander to commit terrible acts.

It would also be fair to say that the signs were there for the Army to prevent this should they have chosen to do so.

Like I said, in more way than one I don't really know what I'm talking about.
As such I welcome all perspective on this topic from those that do.

I would however encourage all to read and listen to the related material before commenting.

posted on Jun, 30 2009 @ 10:29 PM
reply to post by schrodingers dog

As always, interesting read, SD. I too have never been in the Armed Services, but it doesn't seem like a stretch to say that this is something that is not new to mankind, in war or otherwise. Imo, the probability of someone "cracking" seems all to real; considering the job stresses, the enemies tactics, the bad seed soldiers looking for something to happen, etc.

Where this story is ultimately even more sad is, as you pointed out, that when a particular person in power exhibits these dangerous traits, it is even more poeculiar that rational men become similar minded in this fog called war. My two cents - it will be good to hear from those who have experienced that particular hell.


posted on Jul, 1 2009 @ 02:46 PM
Just to provide a brief description of the Iron Triangle Murders:

Steel's brigade conducted Operation Iron Triangle in May 2006. This operation targeted a suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq training facility southwest of the city of Samarra near the Muthana Chemical Complex south of Lake Thar Thar. In the first few hours of the operation, Private First Class Corey R. Clagett, Specialist William B. Hunsaker, Staff Sergeant Raymond L. Girouard, and Specialist Juston R. Graber executed three unarmed Iraqi detainees. Clagget later testified that they had cut the Iraqis loose and let them run before shooting them, to make the incident look like an escape attempt.[3] Clagett and Hunsaker admitted their guilt, accepted a plea bargain, and agreed to testify against Girouard who was convicted of negligent homicide as well as obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice by a military courts martial.[citation needed] All three men are currently serving sentences in the Fort Leavenworth Military Correctional Facility.

These four soldiers testified that Steele had told them to "kill all military-age males."[1][2][4] Steele refused to testify at the Article 32 hearing for the accused soldiers, which is considered unusual for a commanding officer.[3] He was investigated in connection with the incident and stated that he did not use “specific language” to order his soldiers to kill all military-age males, and that “we don’t shoot people with their hands up.”[2] He was not charged, but was later formally reprimanded by Lieutenant General Peter W. Chiarelli, former commander of the Multi-National Force - Iraq. The content of the reprimand has not been made public, but two anonymous defense department officials identified by The New York Times have said that the reprimand was "for not reporting the deaths and other details of the raid."[2]
Steele also instigated the use of "Kill Boards" to track how many Iraqis each Company had killed,[3] while one of Steele's Battalion Commanders', Lt. Colonel Nathaniel Johnson, Jr. has written that "Colonel Steele constantly articulated his judgment and displeasure that my battalion was not being aggressive enough toward the insurgents.

Steele's wikipedia page also contains the story of his military career, which up until the Iron Triangle 'incident' seemed to be an exemplary one. In fact nothing in his record shows anything but a valiant, courageous, and competent warrior. Perhaps there's just so much combat a person can take before the lines between combat kills and murder begin to blur.

Again it would be helpful if some of our members who have been or are currently in the armed forces chimed in at this juncture.

posted on Jul, 2 2009 @ 11:22 PM
I was in the military, US Army. I got out right before Desert Storm, so it has been a while for me. I did have several friends that did however go to war, and I have heard disturbing stories of what happened to at least one of them. To make a long story short, I heard he just kind of "snapped", for lack of a better word. The rules of warfare had kicked in, and I guess he just felt like it was "anything goes".

I heard that when they had destroyed some enemy tank positions and then rolled up on them, that the tanks would be on fire with enemy combatants climbing out of them on fire, etc. trying to get away from the tank by running through the desert on fire. I heard that the guy I knew would chase them down and try to get their he was saying things like, "hey slow down, can I get your picture" or " hey, turn this way so I can get your picture". Really morbid stuff. I also heard he started keeping all his laundry and personal items in black body bags. I guess the though of war really scrambles your brain.

I can't imagine what I would be thinking if I saw those guys piling out of a tank that was on fire. My first reaction would be to shoot them to be honest with you, better to put the enemy out of his misery than to watch him suffer....right? But then, another side of me thinks, what if I were in battle, and that same tank crew had just killed alot of my friends.....what would my reaction be? Would it still be to shoot them to put them out of misery? Or would my thoughts have shifted over to just letting them burn and endure as much pain as they had put my buddies through? There are alot of things that can happen to the human mind and spirit when put in stressful situations like that, especially when you are faced with the gruesome atrocities of war. One never knows how he/she will act until the time actually comes....

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