A Code of Silence

Sgt. 1st Class Micheal Barbera. Photo courtesy of www.supportmichael.org

Sgt. 1st Class Micheal Barbera. Photo courtesy of http://www.supportmichael.org

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

 

 

In The Killing Fields of Iraq, Two Teens Dead One Man Accused

Micheal Barbera

Micheal Barbera

It’s been seven years since two brothers herded cattle for the last time in the fields of Iraq. They were unaware that 200 yards away lay a U.S. Army reconnaissance team or that only moments remained before then-Staff Sgt. Micheal Barbera would kneel down, take aim, and claim their young lives.

The unarmed boys were identified as 15 year old Ahmad Khalid al-Timmimi and his 14 year old brother, Abbas.

The boys cousin, who was approaching the scene along a path, was also killed by Barbera’s team. Mohamed Kaleen Kareem al-Galvani, according to the Associated Press, was killed by Army medic Andrew Harriman who was the “first witness to testify Wednesday” in court in the case against Barbera.

The now Sergeant first-class, 31 year old Barbera, is facing a mandatory life in prison sentence. Premeditated murder and cover up are the charges.

It wasn’t until the 2012 publication in The Tribune-Review investigating the case that the Army “took another look,” reports the Associated Press. The article described Barbera’s team of soldiers as upset that charges had never been brought against the children’s killer which “prompted calls from Congress for the Army to review the matter.”

David Coombs, Barbera’s lawyer, said there is no foundation with which to build a case and questions why it has taken so long to build a case against him. Coombs also went on to claim that the award winning investigative article is to blame by influencing the Army’s choice to bring charges against Barbera. Barbera could now be facing a court martial and that’s just what Lt. Col. Charles N. Floyd is contemplating.

Interestingly, Barbera’s group never reported their concerns or came forward about the shooting until 2009. This has given Coombs more ammunition against the allegations because the criminal investigation that was conducted at the time was “somehow put to bed by administrative action,”  Capt. Ben Hillner said during his statement, reports the Associated Press.

Then Spc. John Lotempio was asked why he didn’t come forward about the shootings after witnessing them and his answer was simple. ” I don’t think I knew the proper way to go about it. I didn’t want to think about it,” he testified. Lotempio “has suffered from nightmares about the killings…and he felt guilty because he was the one who first noticed the boys and woke up Barbera, who promptly shot them,” reports ABC News.

“If I didn’t wake him up, they’d still be alive,” Lotempio said.

The rules of engagement had been laid out. Unless the enemy had the intent, means or opportunity to cause them harm in any way, they were not to engage the enemy. Lotempio said that the killings went against those rules.

When Lotempio was asked if the boys posed a threat he said, “Absolutely not…They appeared to be 10 or 11.”  He also said he believed them to be unarmed, unlike the cousin who was killed. Some believed him to be carrying a weapon.

“After Barbera killed the first boy with a single shot to the head, the second waved to them with one hand and yelled, “Hello, mister! Hello!” Lotempio said. Barbera fired a second shot that killed him,” according to the Associated Press.

The defense brought up the fact that it took two years before anyone reported that the rules of engagement had been violated and that “the reporter who wrote the stories, a former Marine named Carl Prine, was too ready to believe what Barbera’s former comrades told him.”

The former Marine that wrote the stories, reporter Carl Prine, has his own reasons to fear Barbera and alleges that Barbera threatened his wife in 2011. Though Prine could not be exact about the verbiage, he paraphrased saying that Barbera told his wife, “For your own personal safety, you need to tell your husband to back off the story.”

The new charge of “conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline” is coupled with yet another charge of  “trying to get a soldier in 2009 to tell investigators that the dead boys might have been wearing suicide vests,” according to ABC News.

Only intending to have his eight man reconnaissance team hunker down in a grove for a few days “monitoring possible enemy activity,” Barbera lead his men into a nightmare of lost lives, in every sense of the words. Lives were changed in the blink of an eye.

By, Lorra B. Chief writer for Silent Soldier