By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
In the book, you can see the path of folly laid out, the one leading to all of the problems now. They’re just shooting through towns creating chaos and then moving on.
Yes. And it turns out that’s the easiest part of invading a country.
And you get the feeling that they were killing more civilians than anything else.
The problem is that they tended to see the civilian deaths more than the military deaths. The Marines probably killed dozens if not hundreds of armed Fedayeen or soldiers in the town of Al Gharraf. But we never saw the consequences because we just saw buildings falling down and flashes. They saw the civilian deaths more often because they were non-hostile situations at roadblocks.
There’s also the leveling of villages with bombs. Did you see a lot of indiscriminate bombing?
The indiscriminate bombing I saw was a bomb here and there from a lone F16. Everyone thinks of indiscriminate bombing as from airplanes. It’s the fucking artillery. The Marines in particular were using so much artillery that I have no idea what kind of killing we did. I tried to do little estimates with Nasiriyah. We were dropping these DPICM’s [dual-purpose improved conventional munitions] with cluster munitions. One round has between 60 and 90 rounds, and 15 percent of those don’t blow up until a kid picks it up later on and steps on it or plays with it because they’re brightly colored. I went back and I interviewed the artillery units and asked them how many rounds they fired on the city? It turns out we dropped 10,000 of those on one little city. It’s appalling.
Were there other situations where you found yourself feeling similarly appalled?
One thing I didn’t get to include in the book for space reasons was a scene in the beginning when these Iraqis surrendered to the unit I was with, and then we realized there were too many. So we had to unsurrender them and let them go even though they were begging for protection. Because they said there were Fedayeen death squads hunting them down and killing them — which everyone in the Marines, in the higher-ups, believed was true. They were carrying little leaflets saying we [the U.S. military] would protect them if they surrendered.
And we let them go. We said, “You’re no longer our prisoners. Bye, good luck, have fun on the road.” I did not know this at the time, but it was a Marine officer who later told me that that was a strict violation of a Geneva Convention.
I remembered [Major] General [James N.] Mattis [telling] me and other reporters before the war [that we’d] take all these surrenders, process them, treat them humanely. We didn’t do that because our stripped-down military did not have the personnel to process them. We betrayed them. I’m sure that those guys, if they survived, later became insurgents. You know, we lost their trust. Some of them probably turned into criminals. The other thing I didn’t report, or underreported in the book, was that we sped past mountains of munitions. Like RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades], AK-47s. In Baghdad, some of the civilians were complaining to us that the price of an AK had dropped to the cost of a pack of cigarettes. I interviewed our explosive-ordinance-disposal technicians, who talked about 50,000 AKs in one hospital that we were unable to destroy. We would be digging holes and finding these Dragunovs, the best sniper rifle in the world, still sealed in their plastic bags. The Marines would just toss them out because it wasn’t their job to dispose of them. All of this stuff just flooded into Iraq.
Were there repercussions for your unit after the articles were published?
When the articles came out, the Marines were severely punished for what they said to me, and one guy was kicked out of the battalion. They got into a lot of shit, and were given a new commander and a new call sign. The company had been known as “Hit Man.” And they were to give it a new name. Part of it was just routine, but part of it was to erase their ugly history, as they saw it, with the Rolling Stone articles. And so they said, can you think of any new names? And according to my sources, Corporal Person, who was the driver of my Humvee, raised his hand and said, “How about ‘Baby Killer?’”
I was glad to see that even though they were getting punished and in trouble for all this, they didn’t knuckle under. It’s been my experience when I write about someone, and even though I always try to quote them accurately, they will often retract their quotes later on and say, “I didn’t say that, that’s bullshit.” None of these guys retracted their quotes. None of them took back what they said. In the end, they’re just really glad that someone was there to write about it. The thing that amazed me, though, is they all stuck by the articles.