We speak with a reporter from the Army Times who gives an inside account of how an army unit committed mutiny and refused to carry out orders in Iraq. After an IED attack killed five more members of Charlie 1-26, members of 2nd Platoon gathered for a meeting and determined they could no longer function professionally. Several platoon members were afraid their anger could set loose a massacre. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: In what has been described as one of the most remarkable stories of the entire Iraq war, a reporter from the Army Times has given perhaps the first inside account of how an Army unit committed mutiny and refused to carry out orders in Iraq.
The incident occurred in Adhamiya, a district in northeastern Baghdad, where soldiers in the 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, were stationed. The 2nd Platoon had lost many men since deploying to Iraq eleven months before. After an IED attack killed five more members of Charlie 1-26, members of 2nd Platoon gathered for a meeting and determined they could no longer function professionally. Several platoon members were afraid their anger could set loose a massacre. They decided to stage a revolt against their commanders that they viewed as a life-or-death act of defiance.
AMY GOODMAN: The story appears in a major four-part series called “Blood Brothers,” published in the Army Times by the paper’s medical reporter, Kelly Kennedy. She was embedded with Charlie Company in Iraq in the spring and summer of this year. Kelly Kennedy joins us now from Washington, D.C.
Welcome, Kelly, to Democracy Now! Just lay out the story for us. How did it begin?
KELLY KENNEDY: Well, it began — I went to Adhamiya. I was working on a story about medics, and I had heard that Charlie Company had been hit particularly hard, and so I wanted to ride along with their medics and see what they were doing. They were doing some amazing things: tracheotomies on the battlefield and restarting hearts and just really great things.
Our second day there, my photographer, Rick Kozak, and I had gone out on patrol with them in the morning, and then they went out on a second patrol that we didn’t go on, and that was the day that the Bradley was hit, and they lost five men. So we watched them react to that. I guess what amazed me about that day was how strong these guys were for each other, but also how they were willing to look out for us, as reporters that they had just met. They flew us out of there that night.
And then, about a month later, I got a couple of emails from the guys saying, “We just lost four more men, and they want us to go out on patrol, and we’re not going to do it.” And then, I couldn’t get back to them when I was in Iraq, but when they returned home to Germany, I went to see them.
And essentially, they’re the hardest hit unit in Iraq so far. I hope that the story would show people exactly what soldiers in Iraq are dealing with. I’m not sure Americans understand exactly what this war looks like to our soldiers. And we just went through the whole fifteen-month deployment in a four-part series, just showing exactly what had happened to them, from the youngest man in their unit throwing himself on a grenade to save four other men to battles that they went through. They were catching insurgents, and they were battling every day, but then they were exhausted, too, mentally and physically.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of the casualties, you have some startling numbers, in terms of the percentage of the men who were killed. Could you talk about that?
KELLY KENNEDY: Yeah. The company itself, there were 110 men who went out on patrol — there were probably 138 men in Charlie Company itself — and they lost fourteen men in twelve months. And the battalion, which is about a thousand people, lost thirty-one people altogether. So it’s pretty extreme.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about right when you got there, the five men being killed by an IED. Tell us about Master Sergeant Jeffrey McKinney.
KELLY KENNEDY: OK, that was about a month later. First Sergeant McKinney was well loved by his men. He was Bravo Company. He was considered intelligent. When they had a question, he was the one they went to, because he could explain things. Everyone thought he was a great family man. One of the soldiers, Ian Nealon [phon.], told me that he used to ride to work with him every day and that he just loved him.
And one day, he went out on patrol with his guys, and they had just been called back into Apache, which was the name of the combat outpost where they were in Adhamiya, and he apparently looked — said that he had had it. He looked at a wall, he fired a round, and then he took his M4, and he put it under his chin, and he killed himself in front of his men. It left a lot of people just saddened and horrified. And then, the next week, Bravo Company was hit by an IED, and they lost four guys, too.
AMY GOODMAN: The military first ruled it an accident, then admitted that it was a suicide.
KELLY KENNEDY: Well, I’m not sure they — they did an investigation. I don’t think they admit anything until they’re done with an investigation in the military. But, yeah, I think that they were worried about morale at first, and so when they called the guys back in, it wasn’t — they didn’t announce that their first sergeant had just killed himself; they said, “There’s been an accident.” So —-
JUAN GONZALEZ: Your series presents a really fascinating picture of how the medical folks who dealt with some of these soldiers, the psychologists who dealt with them, reacted to their situation, and also how the commander dealt with being faced with an actual mutiny by his troops. Could you enlighten us about that some more?
KELLY KENNEDY: Yeah, I think there’s -— that’s one of the key differences of this war. I’m a veteran myself, and I served in Mogadishu, and I served in Desert Storm. We didn’t know what PTSD was — post-traumatic stress disorder. We didn’t have mental health people we could go to while we were out in the field or while we were out in battle. We didn’t talk about ethics. We didn’t talk about how we were feeling or how we would react professionally to certain situations. And these guys are. They’re going to mental health, and they’re saying, “Hey, I’m upset about this.” And the mental health people are talking with the unit commanders and saying, “Hey, maybe you need to pull your guys out Adhamiya,” or “Hey, maybe your guys need some more rest.” And they’re certainly saying, “Listen, if you think you’re going to act unprofessionally, you need to do something else. You need to take care of that.” And I think that’s huge. I don’t think a lot of people understand that that’s a big difference in this war, between the last war and this war.
And the reason they do that is because early on in this war we did have situations where troops did not behave properly. In Vietnam, we certainly saw it. For these guys to stand up and say, “Listen, we’re not sure we can handle it right now,” could be considered very courageous, in my mind. The commander, I think, also realized that, and he said as much, that he sees the two sides of the situation.
After Bravo Company’s IED went off, Charlie Company was supposed to go back out and patrol the same area. When some of the members who had been patrolling with Charlie Company before the scout platoon went as the quick reaction force to the IED attack for Bravo Company, they were struck by how much it looked like the first IED attack that — the roadside bomb attack, and they reacted as if it were their own men, and they went right to mental health and they got sleeping medications, and they basically couldn’t sleep and reacted poorly.
And then, they were supposed to go out on patrol again that day. And they, as a platoon, the whole platoon — it was about forty people — said, “We’re not going to do it. We can’t. We’re not mentally there right now.” And for whatever reason, that information didn’t make it up to the company commander. All he heard was, “2nd Platoon refuses to go.” So he insisted that they come. They still refused. So volunteers went out to talk with them, and then he got the whole situation. In the meantime, it was called a mutiny, which is probably a bigger word than should be used for it, but that’s what the battalion called it.
And eventually, what they did was they separated the platoon. They said, you know, “You guys aren’t acting well together anymore, so we’re going to split you up, and we’re going to have you work with other platoon sergeants, other squad leaders, and see if we can turn things around this way.” But they also punished them, in a sense, by flagging them and saying that they couldn’t get promotions and they couldn’t get their awards for two months. So there was a feeling that there had to be punishment for these soldiers refusing to go on a mission, but there was also understanding that the guys may have acted properly in this case.
AMY GOODMAN: Kelly Kennedy, I think what is so profound about this story is the refusal of the men to go out. Were there women, by the way, in this unit?
KELLY KENNEDY: No, it was all infantry.
AMY GOODMAN: The refusal of these men to go out, because they were afraid they would commit a massacre. Explain that.
KELLY KENNEDY: Yeah. They’re — I need to say this: they are good guys. I mean, I saw them take care of each other. I saw them take care of Iraqis.
When the IED, the roadside bomb, went off, it was so close to one of the Iraqi police stations that they should have been able to see somebody burying that. It was right in front of somebody’s house, and nobody said anything. Nobody said to these guys, “Listen, there’s a bomb here. We’re worried about you,” even though they had been going out and patrolling and doing what they were supposed to be doing, in their minds. So when that IED went off and killed their five friends, they’re in — you have to understand, they’ve been living together for a year like brothers in the basement of this old palace. And it’s — they’re right on top of each other and going out and taking care of each other on the battlefield, daily firefights. And so, they’re closer probably than anyone could be. And when they lost their five men, they — I think they gave up on the Iraqi people.
If the Iraqi people weren’t willing to fight for them, then what was the point? And they were so angry. They just wanted to go out and take out the whole city. They didn’t understand why they couldn’t finish up what they call the war, and the whole idea of counterinsurgency is that you’re supposed to be building relationships, but they’re trying to build relationships with people who obviously aren’t that concerned about them. So this idea of a massacre was just — they were just so angry, they could barely contain it anymore.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And that sense that you capture so well in the article, the soldiers finding that they’re on a mission to help a people, but they have so much hostility from the very people that they are there to help, the impact of that on their fighting ability or on the morale.
KELLY KENNEDY: It was huge. And I think they can see it from both perspectives. We went out on patrol one morning. It was 6:00 in the morning, and they had to go in and search houses. And they were waking people up, and the Iraqis didn’t look happy to see them, and the guys weren’t happy to have to wake people up. And so, they’re sort of weary of each other anyway.
They were still doing the things that you see, handing out the teddy bears and playing with the kids and playing soccer and that sort of thing, but at the same time, they never felt safe. I mean, it was daily that they were catching grenades and live fire, and these IEDs were all over the place. They just never felt like they were getting anywhere.
When they thought that they had built a relationship with a Sunni colonel, the colonel was fired because the Baghdad government is Shiite, and they didn’t trust him as a colonel in the Iraqi army. So, as soon as he was gone, they had to start all over again. It just seemed like every time they made progress, it was slammed back down again. They just weren’t getting anywhere
AMY GOODMAN: Kelly Kennedy, I want to thank you for joining us and for doing this series of pieces, the medical reporter for Army Times. She’s the author of a four-part series, "Blood Brothers." We’ll link to it at our website, democracynow.org.