Honorable Pete Geren
Department of the Army
107 Army Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20310-0107
"The time is ripe for a public debate on the double standards
that tie our hands in combat while making it easier for the
enemy to cut them off." -- Captain Roger
Hill, former commanding officer, Dog Company, 1st
Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne
had the privilege of meeting Captain Roger Hill. The
introduction and short discussion occurred over the phone while on
radio-blog talk program. The Captain is a professional,
intelligent, soft spoken, thoughtful officer with that inner
strength that shines through in something we use to call
exceptional character. Captain Hill’s story is getting to be a
familiar and almost routine saga for many our American warriors.
The Captain was the commanding officer of Dog Company, on
deployment to Afghanistan when, in his commanders opinion, he
abused detainees and committed a war crime.
I am sure that
the Army generals and the Pentagon crowd think that his legal
proceeding is the way to demonstrate Army control and discipline.
I, however, feel that it demonstrates the double standard that the
US military general officers use to please their political
Washington masters. I also think that it under minds the US
strategy for fighting these wars. I think historians will
eventually place this strategic shortcoming on the shoulders of
not only the general’s but also the civilian leadership, like you,
everyday we see and read about UAV strikes that kill our enemies
with Hellfire missiles. Here are two recent examples:
US Predator strike in South Waziristan kills 25 By
The Long War Journal,
February 14, 2009 The US launched an airstrike inside of Pakistan's tribal
areas early Saturday morning … An unmanned US Predator strike
aircraft fired two missiles into a compound … Twenty-five
extremists, most of them from Uzbekistan, were killed in the
US Airstrike in Pakistan's Kurram tribal agency kills 30
The Long War Journal, February 16, 2009 The US appears to be expanding its campaign of cross-border
strikes into Pakistan after several unmanned US Predator
aircraft conducted multiple attacks in the Taliban-controlled
tribal agency of Kurram. More than 30 people have been reported
killed after four Predator aircraft launched at least four
Hellfire missiles …
was originally design to destroy tanks and bunkers and its
lethality is famous. The missile exists in a number of variants
but generally possesses a warhead with about twenty pounds of
explosive and an ECR of about 20 meters (Effective Casuality
Radius, a 90% probability of killing a person within the radius).
This warhead is usually enough to ensure not only the death of the
individual terrorist but also anyone else that happens to be in
the targeted house or its general vicinity. Additional causalities
are routine and this body count is usually written off as
interesting part is that no one ever charges the generals with
murder for conducting these operations and we know that civilians
are being killed.
We took out
Zarqawi in Iraq with two 500 lb bombs and US citizens even got to
watch it on their TV’s in their living rooms.In the rubble of that Iraqi house, we not only found
Zarqawi’s body but also five others including the bodies of a
woman and a child.
above headlines to the two Haditha incident headlines below:
Marines Charged With Murder, Other Crimes in Haditha Killings By
VOA, December 21 , 2006 Four U.S. Marines have been charged with murder in the
killing of 24 Iraqi civilians in the city of Haditha November 19
Marines Murdered 15 Unarmed Iraqi Civilians
Outside the Beltway, May 18, 2006 Rep. Jack Murtha, who came on our radar screen as a “hawk”
(although always an opponent of the Iraq War) who called for
rapid pullout of troops from Iraq on the basis that our mission
has failed, has told the press that the Marines have killed
Iraqi innocents in cold blood.
Five of the
Haditha Marines never went to trial for lack of evidence. One
other was found not guilty on all counts. The senior Marine
officer’s case, charged in the incident, was dropped for undue
command influence; and the last charged Marine sits in legal limbo
because the Marine prosecutors can not collect enough evidence to
bring him to trial.
Looking at the
above headlines and the trial results, the question then becomes:
Why is there this seemingly double standard? One standard for
soldiers and Marines, fighting face-to-face with the enemy and one
for generals (and their civilian leaders), sitting comfortable in
air conditioned headquarters, killing civilians with “precision”
The answer is
relatively simple, at least in this old Marine’s mind. General
officers have, and use, the Laws of War as their standard to
protect themselves. They also use the Rules of Law to “judicially
water board” the combat troops fighting at the
eyeball-to-eyeball level to satisfy and relieve any pressure they
receive from the Washington political leadership.
The Laws of
War have many names to include: Law of Force, Laws and Customs of
War, Law of Armed Conflict, International Humanitarian Law, or the
Geneva and Hague Convention. The Laws of War is the legal corpus
comprised of the Geneva Conventions and Hague Conventions, as well
as subsequent treaties, case law, and customary international law.
It defines the conduct and responsibilities of belligerent
nations, neutral nations and individuals engaged in warfare, in
relation to each other and to protected persons, usually meaning
“civilians.” US military forces ROE (Rules of Engagement) are
based on the Laws of War.
With the Laws
of War, the principles of military necessity, distinction and
proportionality are in play. For example, the Laws of War state
that the killing of civilians is to be avoided but can occur
because of “military necessity”. The laws also state that the
“field commander” determines military necessity. For example, in
the above Hellfire missile strikes, I am sure the commanding
general or “field commander” determined that the killing of
civilians is a military “necessity” and that the precision bombing
(with a warhead containing twenty pounds of explosive) is
“proportional” for the target.
In the Haditha
case, military necessity and proportionality is never discussed
and instead we see charges of murder. Is this a double standard?
this politically correct gimmick the US military leadership is
using now seems to be institutionalized down to the battalion
level. Here are some of Captain Hill’s headlines:
troops investigated for abuse of Afghans
Reuters, December 1,
2008 KABUL - Two U.S. soldiers based in Afghanistan are being
investigated for alleged abuse of Afghan detainees, the U.S.
military said on Monday. Captain
Roger T. Hill and 1st Sergeant Tommy L. Scott, both of the 1st
battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army will be
investigated under Article 32, the military equivalent of a
civilian grand jury hearing.
In 2005, two U.S. soldiers were charged with abusing Afghan
detainees at a base in the Uruzgan province in southern
Afghanistan and media have alleged abuse of prisoners at Bagram,
the U.S. army's main base in Afghanistan.
Area soldier's future in
Chattanooga Times Free Press, January 29, 2009 In the
eyes of the U.S. Army, Capt. Roger Hill is a poor leader with a
trigger-happy finger whose recklessness led to the abuse of at
least a dozen detainees in Afghanistan last year.
But those who know Capt. Hill personally say he simply fell on
the sword of ultra-strict, post-Abu Ghraib torture policy and
still deserves to come home to Bridgeport, Alabama, with honor.
Hill did on his base in Afghanistan is not in dispute. The captain
has demonstrated an honesty that is exemplary in this affair. The
captain was taking causalities in his less than 90 man company to
the tune of thirty wounded and two killed. His company was being
routinely ambushed and the last ambush accounted for his two
ambush in Captain Hill’s area of responsibility provides a
standard in which to measure the tenacity and barbaric nature of
the enemy Captain Hill and his men faced. In this ambush, it was
Captain Hill and his men who took the responsibility of recovering
missing body parts of U.S. service members from another unit who
were mutilated by the same enemy. The body parts were
intentionally cut off by the enemy, sold and passed around at the
local market as souvenirs. Insurgents like to do such things; it
demonstrates their power and diminishes our forces protection of
local Afghan citizens to a bad perception.
based on the ambushes and intelligence he gathered, is suspicious
of his Afghanistan military partners who also help man his Forward
Operating Base defensive perimeter. He sets up a sting operation
and catches 12 Afghanistan soldiers, including his interpreter,
again facilitating another ambush. The captain takes those 12
Afghan soldiers into custody and informs his battalion what has
the Army has formalized their catch and release program in
Afghanistan by establishing a 96 hour rule for the release of
detainees. For the next 80 hours (3 plus days), Captain Hill tries
to get help from his battalion headquarters. At hour 80, isolated
in “only God knows where” Afghanistan, with the clock running out,
he takes matters into his own hands and with the help of his first
sergeant conducts an interrogation.
is rewarded with charges of “detainee” abuse and other crimes. His
additional reward is his discharge from the Army and his first
sergeant losing a stripe.
The issues in
this case with Captain Hill’s chain of command, regarding bad
leadership and bad counter-insurgency strategy, are almost
innumerable but let’s concentrate in the Laws of War.
“detainees” are not detainees by any definition to include
DOD Directives. These 12 Afghanistan soldiers are in a
completely different category called “spies”. The Laws of War
A person can only be considered a spy when, acting clandestinely
or on false pretences, he obtains or endeavors to obtain
information in the zone of operations of a belligerent, with the
intention of communicating it to the hostile party.
Under the Laws
of War, spies are not entitled to prisoner of war status. Spies
must be isolated in order to prevent the enemy from using the
military information they possess. They are also to be placed on
trial because spying is a war crime and if convicted, they can be
executed. The DOD’s own regulations basically define “detainee” as
an enemy combatant, a prisoner of war, or a civilian and does not
Counter-insurgency strategy calls for small units to fight over
disbursed areas in isolated villages and requires small unit
leaders to show initiative. Because Captain Hill is the senior
commander of an isolated base, he is, in fact, the “field
commander” for this situation. His battalion headquarters also
significantly contributes to this justification by not responding
to his repeated requests. As the field commander, he has the
authority to determine military necessity.
As the small
unit leader, the captain realized the enemy has the upper hand in
the intelligence battle and it is costing his soldiers lives. The
military necessity is clear that Captain Hill needed to determine
how this spy network is working and operating. In order to confirm
the spying, he conducts his own interrogation to preserve his
soldier’s lives. The interrogation then nets 12 spies.
interrogation is proportional because his prisoners are not
physically harmed, as verified by medical authority. To avoid any
physical harm, Captain Hill runs a ruse on the spies by creating a
deception that he will execute them if they do not cooperate.
In the Haditha
incident, we can see the same Law of War principles in play. The
Haditha Marines were ambushed and military necessity dictated that
they conduct a counter attack in order to preserve their lives.
Civilians were killed because the enemy is committing a war crime
by using civilians as a shield. The attack is proportional because
the Marines use only their authorized squad weapons.
Proportionality is further reinforced because the Haditha squad
did not call in artillery, airstrikes or Hellfire missiles.
military officer that knows anything about counter-insurgency
warfare see’s Captain Hill’s sting operation for exactly what it
is: an intelligence windfall and bonanza. In counter-insurgency
warfare, intelligence is everything and it needs to be the primary
driver in all military operations.
chain of command from his battalion headquarters to the CENTCOM
offices in Tampa, Florida should have lit-up like a Christmas tree
when he requested help in interrogating 12 spies caught passing
information to the enemy. Captain Hill’s leaders should have
flooded him with interrogators, because, if properly done, these
12 “detainees” could have potentially identified the entire shadow
network existing in not only Wardak Province but also a good
portion of Afghanistan. In others words, an economy of force
operation conducted by a small infantry company, could have given
the Afghanistan War a victory with an entire province as the
prize. Hundreds of UAVs and Hellfire missiles operating around the
clock could not achieve the same prize.
Now here is
the kicker, Mister Secretary. DOD and all Service Directives state
the same order very clearly. These directives order that: “All
reportable incidents” (of Law of War violations) … “are promptly
reported, thoroughly investigated, and, where appropriate,
remedied by corrective action” … whether “committed by or
against US or enemy persons…" (emphasis added to portions of
DOD Directive 5100.77 December 9, 1998; DOD Law of War
We are all
painfully aware of how many war crimes our forces have been
accused of committing and how many of these legal proceedings are
viewed as an unfair double standard. We are also aware that our
enemy does not take prisoners (accept to record their public
execution by beheading); we are aware that the enemy routinely
uses civilians as shields; and we are aware the enemy spies in
order to commit these war crimes. To this date, we have yet to see
any legal action against a single enemy combatant that committed
any of the above war crimes against our troops. What does that
say about the job the Service Secretaries (like yourself) and the
Washington generals are doing in leading the US Armed Forces in
Secretary, now is the time to vacate and void Captain Roger Hill’s
and First Sergeant Tommy Scott’s Non-judicial Punishment and
reverse the double standard that ties our soldiers hands in combat
by unjustly charging and judicially water boarding our service men
for political purposes.
LtCol, USMC Ret.
Former Commanding Officer Kilo Company, 3/1