The Demise of the 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment

From Holden:

The 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment had a proud history of combat during the Second World War II. The 1-41 was everywhere in the European and North African Theater – Moroco, Sicily, Italy, Omaha Beach, The Bulge. They built a fine reputation under fire.

But that was before the 1-41 was sent to Iraq.

Last week, in a makeshift military courtroom, the unit’s reputation came under assault. Soldiers from 1-41 [1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment] described how a member of a rogue platoon hauled an unarmed Iraqi man away from his family one hot August morning and casually fired two shots into his head. Then he photographed the corpse.

As disturbing as the testimony was for soldiers from a proud unit, it was just one episode in a shocking series of killings. Over a period of 26 days in August and September, seven 1-41 soldiers were charged with six murders on two continents.

Soldiers have described renegade infantrymen who bragged about their kills. In one case, they testified, soldiers from a 1-41 platoon argued over who should get credit for killing an unarmed Iraqi because they had bet on who would be the first.

Four of the victims were Iraqi civilians. In addition to the two alleged executions, soldiers were accused of shooting a critically wounded Iraqi teenager in a “mercy killing,” and shooting an unarmed Iraqi, who, according to two soldiers, was waving a white cloth. Two more infantrymen were charged with murdering two fellow 1-41 soldiers in Kansas.

[snip]

Soldiers said one squad leader ordered his men to take no prisoners, and at least one soldier who complained about misconduct had to be transferred for his safety.

Another 1-41 soldier was punished for kicking an Iraqi corpse after urine from the body dripped onto the soldier’s hands.

[snip]

Staff Sgts. Johnny Horne Jr., 30, and Cardenas J. Alban, 29, were accused of shooting a severely wounded Iraqi teenager in Sadr City, the Baghdad slum, on Aug. 18. The staff sergeants later told investigators that they shot the boy “to put him out of his misery.” The military also charged 2nd Lt. Erick J. Anderson, 25, the platoon leader, with premeditated murder.

The boy was one of seven Iraqi teenagers and young men killed after the unit fired on a dump truck in the dark. Soldiers mistook them for insurgents laying roadside bombs.

On Friday, Horne pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Sgt. Michael P. Williams, 25, was charged in the same incident with killing an Iraqi who ran from the truck. Some soldiers testified that the unarmed man was waving a white cloth, and one heard the Iraqi shouting “Baby! Baby!” — possibly referring to youngsters in the truck, which had been hired to pick up trash.

Williams told his squad before leaving Ft. Riley in Kansas that they would “take no prisoners” in Iraq, according to testimony.

Ten days later, on Aug. 28, an Iraqi smirked as Williams struggled to disassemble an AK-47 rifle found in the man’s house. Soldiers testified that Williams took the man inside the house, had his plastic handcuffs removed, laid the rifle near him and said: “I feel my life has been threatened.” Williams then shot the man, a soldier testified.

Another soldier allegedly then told him the Iraqi was still alive. “I’ll take care of it,” Williams replied, and shot the man again, according to prosecutors.

A few minutes later, soldiers pulled a man from a nearby home where two guns had been found. “You know what you have to do,” Williams told Spc. Brent W. May, 22, who fired twice into the man’s head, according to testimony.

[snip]

One soldier testified that he believed he would be justified in shooting a person carrying a cellphone after an explosion because the phones often are used to detonate roadside bombs. Others said such a shooting was not justified.

“In Kuwait, they told us we didn’t have to give warning shots,” said Sgt. Jack Johnson, a member of the unit. “In Iraq they told us to give warning shots. The ROE [Rules of Engagement] was kind of vague.”

[snip]

Williams, a squad leader, has emerged as a central figure. Williams’ men were the first to fire on the dump truck Aug. 18, and prosecutors said he was present at three of the killings.

Known as “Sgt. Will,” he was liked by some soldiers and loathed by others. Some said Williams expressed support for killing any “fighting age” Iraqi male and for killing the oldest male in any household where weapons were found.

[snip]

Prosecutors said soldiers tried to cover up the Aug. 28 killings by claiming that the Iraqis had reached for guns. Williams ordered his men to “stick to the story,” soldiers testified. But Pfc. Gary Romriell said he slipped a note to superior officers complaining about the killings. Romriell was transferred to another unit after Williams threatened him, witnesses said.