A recent survey found that only about 55 percent of soldiers and 40 percent of Marines in Iraq would report to a superior officer if a fellow soldier hurt or killed an innocent civilian.
Micheal Barbera, formerly a Staff Sgt. in the Army, was accused of shooting and killing two deaf and unarmed Iraqi boys in March of 2007. It’s not surprising, given those percentages, that of the remaining six team members of Barberas’ unit, not one of them reported the brothers’ killings to their commanders.
The team members were fearful of jeopardizing their military careers or breaking rank, let alone getting retaliation for their actions.
“I think there is a natural tendency among soldiers to band together and not be viewed as malcontent…It’s inherent in the culture,” stated Morris Davis. Mr. Davis is a retired Air Force Col. and, according to Stars and Stripes, is an “officer with the Judge Advocate’s Corps for 25 years and former director of the Air Force legal system.”
Davis reported that, as a commander, divulging bad news wasn’t exactly the thing to do if you planned on moving ahead in your military career.
From September 2005 until his resignation in October of 2007, “Davis was chief prosecutor of the joint military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,” reports Stars and Stripes. Davis said “He quit the post because superiors overruled his policy not to consider evidence obtained through waterboarding.” Davis retired in 2008 but was director of the Air Force judiciary system a year prior to his retirement.
It was almost two years, and not until safety back in the United States, before then-Sgt. Ken Katter came forward about the boys Barbera had killed in Iraq. Katter was the first to come forward but it wouldn’t be until he was ready to medically retire that he felt comfortable enough to do so. It was then that three others from Barbera’s team came forward to testify that it was indeed Barbera who shot and killed the children while they were in the field tending to their cattle, although one of the members only heard the shot but didn’t know where it landed.
Reviewing allegations of bad behavior, the report stated, “Evidence exists that service members at the point of contact, or their leaders, have been reluctant to inform the command of reportable incidents. This reluctance may be attributed to any number of potential factors, including a feeling of justification in connection with the actions taken, fear of career repercussions, loyalty to fellow service members or the unit, or ignorance.”
Although the report encourages that the military make changes in its justice system and how it handles the coverage of abusers, injuries and civilian killings, a member of the subcommittee, Fidell, doesn’t believe the Army is acting on the changes being suggested.
In an interview with the Tribune-Review, Fidell stated that congress was concentrating more on sexual assault issues than on a much-needed overall reform in the military’s justice system. He went on to say “the Defense Department’s former ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy involving gay troops recognized the kind of cohesion in the ranks that contributes to non-reporting of reporting civilian injuries or deaths.”
The Barbera court case is of great importance, according to Fidell. First, “it goes to the overall military justice operation. Secondly, and this is just as important, some people died.”
By, Lorra B. Chief writer for Silent Soldier