November 23, 2009

War Grief in All Its Faces


by contributor Pete Brook

Under the Freedom of Information Act, CNN recently got hold of 23 hours of interrogation tapes that detail the actions and motives of US marines that killed three Iraqis in March 2007, dumping their bodies in a Baghdad canal.

The three sergeants were convicted of premeditated murder and conspiracy in a military court in Germany last year. The three are serving their sentences at the U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. First Sgt. John Hatley received a life sentence, later reduced to 40 years; Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Mayo, who had pleaded guilty, and Sgt. Michael Leahy, a medic, are serving 20-years each. Hatley and Leahy are appealing their convictions, while Mayo is seeking a lighter sentence.

Frustrating over military detention policy was identified as the central factor in the soldiers’ decisions to murder. The soldiers balked at the seemingly impossible steps needed to prove a crime and continue detention of Iraqis. Soldiers were convinced that (after inevitable release) prisoners captured by the soldiers in Baghdad would return to the streets, return to arms and fire upon the US military once more.

CNN cites U.S. military statistic stating that 76,985 detainees have been released out of the 87,011 captured during the Iraq war.

You can read the full analysis from CNN here. It includes a slideshow with photos of the canal, map of the area, photos of the military prison in Germany where the three soldiers are held and portrait shots of the men and (separately) their wives.

It was the portraits of the wives that intrigued me, however. Firstly, because they weren’t something I expected to see, and secondly because they are so similar to images of grieving family members.

What the photos demonstrate is that military families can lose their loved ones to circumstances other than death in the field. Not surprisingly, the wives consider their husbands heroes and not killers; they campaign for their release.

(Adapted from a post at Prison Photography.)

(Photos: From top, clockwise © Johanna Mayo, Rich Brooks/CNN; Kim Hatley, Rich Brooks/CNN; Jamie Leahy Derek Davis/CNN)

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Michael Shaw
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