Doing the right thing is never easy. When emotions run high and people have their backs against the wall, they will do what they think is right. Unfortunately, three American soldiers who thought they did the right thing are being severely punished for their acts.
After six months of secrecy, a U.S. soldier Sgt. Michael P. Leahy confessed to the murders of four Iraqi detainees. An investigation ensued and led to the arrests of Master Sgt. John E. Hatley, Joseph P. Mayo including Leahy himself. Hartson was one of the soldiers under Hatley’s squad but was not arrested because he was only a witness.
In March 2007, Sgt. John Hatley led his squad in his third combat deployment mission in Iraq. During their patrol, Hatley’s squad were under fire. They searched and detained four Iraqi suspects with a weapon stash nearby, according to CNN.
“There were sniper rifles, light machine guns, AK-47s, night vision goggles and duffel bags full of ammunition,” former Private First Class Joshua Hartson said.
After arresting the Iraqi prisoners of war. The U.S. Army required that the soldiers deport the prisoners to the Detainee Housing Area (DHA), which is standard and strict policy of the American army. In addition to that, the DHA said Hatley and his squad had no direct evidence between the Iraqis and the weapons and would have to release them. However, Hatley, Mayo and Leahy took the prisoners to a canal. They blindfolded them, zip-tied their hands and shot the prisoners execution style.
“Like, my arm went up to the right, and I fired again. I’m pretty sure I didn’t hit anybody, but I’m not gonna say that because I don’t know for sure. I wasn’t even looking when I shot the second time. My arm just went to the right.” Leahy said.
There were inconsistencies with his story. He later admitted that his bullet struck the second detainee, but said Hatley fired two more shots that killed the man, according to CNN.
The arrests of these three men has been the one of the most unfortunate events for the U.S. Army. It has brought them nothing but bad PR. The media feeds off the controversy and society has mixed thoughts on the soldiers’ actions. The soldiers have been labeled as either cold-blooded murderers or American heroes.
Personally, the thought of letting terrorists back onto the streets after being detained must have hit the soldiers hard. Thus killing them was the only viable option. They did it to protect their friends and keep their fellow soldiers safe. They had justified motives. However, those justified motives became their own downfall.
Personally, I think this is the war taking its toll on people who are naturally good at heart. There is no doubt that emotions were running high and that the three soldiers got caught up in the moment. It is hard to point fingers at them and call them murderers. But such an unfortunate event scrutinizing the U.S. Army today could have been avoided.
Hatley and the rest of the squad might have done the right thing but in the context of legalism and standard procedure, they are criminals. Keep in mind that they are not ultimately being punished for shooting detained prisoners or supposed terrorists but are being punished for overriding DHA policy.
It is a classic case of revenge, people taking matters into their own hands and acting out in a way which we think serve us best. We are still subject to punishment from an authority somehow.
The three culprits were convicted premeditated murder and conspiracy in a military courtroom in Germany. Hatley and Mayo both faced 35 years at military prison Fort Leavenworth. Leahy received 20 years after plea bargaining.