Would the United States military lie about how four Marines were killed? Would abuse continue at Abu Ghraib after the scandal exploded? Any soldier you talk to has a story you may not want to hear. I recently had occasion to speak with two that were particularly troubling.
Part I: Snipers Dead in Ramadi:
Here's a military report from August 2006 on how four Marines died in Iraq in 2004. Christian Lowe, a Marine Corps Times staff writer, tells us:
"It was supposed to be a mission like many they had done in Iraq. Ride the Humvees to a position at a building abutting a busy street in Ramadi. Relieve the four Marines on the roof there. . . .
"Instead, four Marines lay dead, three shot in the head and the fourth riddled with bullets. One Marine's throat had been slit. The Marines didn't get off a shot. The killings left their buddies and Corps leaders wondering how four elite leathernecks could have been slain seemingly so easily. . . .
"For the first time since the June 2004 killings, details have come to light on how the four-man sniper team attached to Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, was attacked in broad daylight by killers who got close enough to shoot them at point-blank range.- Advertisement -
"A copy of an investigation conducted by Naval Criminal Investigative Service, obtained by Marine Corps Times, also revealed that the Corps believes it knows who the Iraqi killers were, but let at least one of them slip away.
"The four dead are: Cpl. Tommy Lynn Parker Jr., 21, of Cleburne, Ark.; Lance Cpl. Deshon Otey, 24, of Hardin, Ky.; Lance Cpl. Juan Lopez, 22, of Whitfield, Ga.; and Lance Cpl. Pedro Contreras, 27, of Harris, Texas.
"The NCIS inquiry conducted nearly a year after their deaths indicates the team was either caught unaware -- possibly some or all were asleep -- or that they trusted their assailants enough that they dropped their guard." . . .
. . . "Parker -- the only team member who was a trained sniper -- told his wife a month before he died that he believed it was only a matter of time before one of the teams was ambushed.
"'He said, "No wonder people are dying,"' Parker's wife, Carla, said in a May 24 interview. '"They're sending us to the same place, by the same route at the same time of day."' . . .
. . . "According to statements from Marines with 2/4 in the NCIS investigation report, Parker's team probably left the front gate of Combat Outpost -- a walled compound in eastern Ramadi -- around 1 a.m. on June 21 to relieve another team in position on one of three regularly manned observation posts . . . .
. . . "The team arrived at the observation post in the dark. Parker, Otey, Lopez and Contreras took up positions on the roof of a two-story house that was under construction just 800 yards east of Combat Outpost. . . . Once the sniper team was set, they called in a situation report every 30 minutes back to base until at least 7:30 a.m., the last entry made in a radio log found in Lopez's hands after the killings. Though the investigation does not make clear when the last radio check was made that morning, the report says 51 minutes elapsed without contact from Parker's team before a quick reaction force was dispatched to make sure the snipers were safe. . . .- Advertisement -
. . . "The cold-blooded nature of the killings and the fact that the assailants took the team by surprise in daylight left Marines in Iraq at the time wondering how such an attack could have happened."
Well, according to one Marine who was in Ramadi at the time, the executions probably happened while it was still dark. Phillip Scoggins told me about what he witnessed that night. He referred me as well to a second Marine who he said could confirm his account, but I have thus far been unable to reach him.
According to Scoggins, the four men who were executed on the rooftop sent up a distress flare in the night: "We called it in to the company, which said not to worry, that it was probably just the Second Platoon." When the four bodies were discovered, Scoggins recalls, "Nate [Nathan Sprunger] and I said 'No sh*t. We've been telling you all night a flare popped.'" Scoggins says he is certain that "Flares don't get popped on accident. It was a distress flare. All radios over there were sh*t. Their radio probably wasn't working, so they shot a flare." Scoggins, who knew two of the men who died, says that there is no possible way that all four of them were asleep.