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“You Came Too Close, We Lit You Up” – The Lethal Warriors Come Home

Dave Phillips’ Casualties of War in the Colorado Spring’s Gazette is a stunning and horrifying report on the multiple murders and other crimes committed by members of the “the brigade called the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, which nicknamed itself the “Lethal Warriors’” after returning from Iraq.

The statistics are astonishing:

… no other unit has a record as deadly as the soldiers of the 4th Brigade. … In a one-year period from the fall of 2007 to the fall of 2008, the murder rate for the 500 Lethal Warriors was 114 times the rate for Colorado Springs…a murder rate 20 times that of young males as a whole.

The killings are only the headline-grabbing tip of a much broader pyramid of crime. Since 2005, the brigade’s returning soldiers have been involved in brawls, beatings, rapes, DUIs, drug deals, domestic violence, shootings, stabbings, kidnapping and suicides.

I’m sure that others will write about Phillips’ account of the total failure of the DoD to treat PTSD in returning veterans – and the DoD will tout their new improved services and methods for encouraging returning soldiers to go for help – but behind all of that is the story of how we train our soldiers and what they do in the countries we occupy.

As Phillips writes of the DoD report just completed on these killings [the PDF of the full report is available here]:

The investigation, conducted by a team of 27 behavioral health and Army professionals, concluded with a report released July 15. The findings echo what guys in the ranks said: Their tour was bloodier than most; violence in Iraq messed them up; they started abusing drugs and alcohol; treatment for substance abuse and mental health at Fort Carson was inadequate; stigma kept soldiers from getting help; and when those so-called “risk factors” came together, guys got in serious trouble.

The report did not address other issues, such as soldiers carrying guns once they return from deployments, alleged war crimes by the unit, or the Army’s deployment of soldiers with pending civilian felonies.

And while various army officials are quoted in the article about stigma and the need for more counseling and training of soldiers to recognize the problems of PTSD, none acknowledge or appear to even notice the horrors the soldiers interviewed report committing and witnessing. In his article Phillips breaks through the media blackout that has hidden those war crimes as deeply as it has hidden the “use ‘em up and throw them out” approach the DoD takes to these soldiers.

Here’s just a sample of the nightmare these soldiers confessed to Phillips:

“Toward the end, we were so mad and tired and frustrated,” Freeman said. “You came too close, we lit you up. You didn’t stop, we ran your car over with the Bradley.”

If soldiers were hit by an IED, they would aim machine guns and grenade launchers in every direction, Marquez said, and “just light the whole area up. If anyone was around, that was their fault. We smoked ’em.”

Other soldiers said they shot random cars, killing civilians.

“It was just a free-for-all,” said Marcus Mifflin, 21, a friend of Eastridge who was medically discharged with PTSD after the tour. “You didn’t get blamed unless someone could be absolutely sure you did something wrong. And that was hard. So things happened. Taxi drivers got shot for no reason. Guys got kidnapped and taken to the bridge and interrogated and dropped off.”


… In a December 2007 letter to the Inspector General’s Office of Fort Carson, which investigates crimes within the Army, Needham [a soldier in the brigade] told of the atrocities he saw. His father provided a copy to The Gazette. [the article sidebar has a pdf of Needham’s letter]

One sergeant shot a boy riding a bicycle down the street for no reason, John Needham said. When Needham and another soldier rushed to deliver first aid, the sergeant said, “No, let him bleed out.”

Another sergeant shot a man in the head without cause while questioning him, Needham said, then mutilated the body, lashed it to the hood of his Humvee and drove around the neighborhood blaring warnings to insurgents in Arabic that “they would be next.”

Other Iraqis were shot for invented reasons, then mutilated, Needham said.

The sergeants particularly liked removing victims’ brains, Needham said.

Needham offered a photograph of a soldier removing brains from an Iraqi on the hood of a Humvee and other photos as evidence. His father supplied copies to The Gazette.

Or listen to the audio [available here] of Phillips’ interview with another soldier, Eastridge who recounts his last mission:

[Eastridge] was the gunner manning the M240 machine gun on a Humvee — a big gun that shoots 600 rounds per minute. He said he was ordered to guard the street while the rest of his platoon searched a house.

Eastridge said he told his lieutenant he was going to kill people as soon as the officer was out of sight. Then he asked the driver to put some heavy-metal “killin’ music on.”

His lieutenant laughed and walked off, Eastridge said.

Families were out playing soccer and barbecuing. Eastridge said he just started shooting. He pumped a long burst of rounds into a big palm tree where a few old men had gathered in the shade.

People started running. They piled into their cars and sped away. There was a no-driving rule in effect in the neighborhood, so, Eastridge said, he put his cross hairs on every car that moved.

“All I could think of was car bombs, car bombs, car bombs, and I just kept shooting,” he said.

Orders came over the radio to cease fire, he said, but he kept yelling, “Negative! Negative!”

Eastridge said he shot more than 1,700 rounds. When asked how many people he killed, he said, “Not that many. Maybe a dozen.”

He was court-martialed a short time later on nine counts, including drug possession and disobeying orders. Killing civilians wasn’t one of them.

For that, he said, he was put on guard duty.

There is more – and Dave Phillips has the courage to tell us – about the crimes in Iraq and the crimes on homecoming – and the criminality of a military leadership that allows it all. The “Lethal Warriors” are once again deployed, this time to Afghanistan – and we must ask precisely what are they doing there … now.

For all the accounts I’ve read – and posted – about the constant stream of civilian casualties and war crimes committed in our names, I was still shocked by this report. And I was again reminded of the warning that Laith of the GorillasGuides team wrote not long before he himself was killed:

You should remember something else. A people and their army who behave like this abroad invariably bring this criminal and brutish behaviour home and turn it against their own people. It is not only revolutions that eat their own.

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Siun is a proud Old Town resident who shares her home with two cats and a Great Pyrenees. She’s worked in media relations and on the net since before the www, led the development of a corporate responsibility news service, and knows what a mult box is thanks to Nico. When not swimming in the Lake, she leads a team working on sustainability tools.

Email: media dot firedoglake at gmail dot com