Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Anatomy of an execution

From a New Yorker article about platoon dynamics and American infantrymen in Iraq...

Two infantrymen performed the executions. One of them was William Hunsaker, the specialist. Just before Operation Iron Triangle, he was told that he would be promoted. His platoon sergeant considered him to be "one of the better soldiers that I had." He was admired for his discipline and work ethic - he once cleaned up the remains of Iraqis who had been shot in a truck. He read voraciously, and quoted Nietzsche: "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster." At some point, Hunsaker decided that the three detainees were monsters, and that killing was "a lesser evil for a greater good." He has since said, "The men I killed were terrorists, men who would have done worse to us if the situation was reversed." Even today, he says, he has not lost sleep over the killings. The other soldier, Private First Class Corey Clagett, was known for his lack of discipline and for bragging, and he seemed to take lightly the idea of shooting the detainees. "I thought it was basically like an initiation," he later testified.
Hunsaker and Clagett used a knife to cut the zip ties on the detainees' wrists, and then partly lifted the men's blindfolds. Hunsaker looked each detainee in the eye, and gestured for them to run. Al-Jemi and the teen-agers did not understand him, or perhaps they were reluctant to run, so Clagett yelled, "Yalla!" - "Hurry," in Arabic - at which point they fled. Clagett threw the knife in their direction, hoping to create the impression that one of them had dropped it while escaping. Hunsaker shot the youngest detainee first. "I was going to make it quick and as painless as possible for him," he later testified. "So I took careful aim and shot the first one through the heart and the back, and shot him in the head." Hunsaker shot a second detainee through the chest. Then, he recalled, "Clagett opened up fire, and just sprayed bullets, eventually fatally wounding the third, before I could get a shot at him." Hunsaker felt disoriented. He removed his helmet, walked back to Komar - Abdullah's house, and squatted in the doorway. He put his face in his hands to control his feelings. "1 was angry at Clagett," he recalled. "If you are going to do it, you know, do it right. There is no sense in causing the extra suffering by just spraying bullets." Clagett who had not killed anyone before, later told a psychiatrist that during the shooting his "mind just went blank." At the sound of the gunfire, the rest of the squad ran over, when Girouard saw the bodies, he turned pale. One of the detainees had somehow survived the shooting, and Graber - one of the infantrymen who had objected earlier - recalled Girouard telling him, "Put him out of his misery." Graber, focusing on the dying detainee's strained breathing, fatally shot him.

One of the detainees captured by the Charlie Company as part of Operation Iron Triangle before he was killed on May 9, 2006. Photo ripped from the June 6th edition of the New Yorker

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