Another former soldier of Bravo Company 2-16 (2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment) has said in a radio interview that a controversial battalion commander ordered soldiers to open fire on civilians in an indiscriminate pattern of “360 rotational fire,” upon being hit by an improvised explosive device (IED). The interview took place last month with Scott Horton of AntiWar.com Radio. The commander in question is the same commander who led the first of many investigations into the death of NFL football star Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, in 2004, and was one of Tillman’s commanding officers. A documentary on what the Pentagon has said was a “friendly fire” incident has just been released, “The Tillman Story.” In the interview with Horton, Spc. Josh Stieber said that he witnessed the street massacres, which resulted when the order was carried out “maybe five to ten times.”
The first soldier to reveal the order, Spc. Ethan McCord, told World Socialist Website News reporter Bill Van Auken last April that the commander, Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, told his men in different settings and at various times that they were to have a new “S.O.P.” (standard operating procedure) whenever an IED went off. At that time, in early 2007, the Bush “surge” was just getting underway, and IED attacks and troop deaths had risen sharply. McCord told Van Auken: “He [Kauzlarich] goes, ‘If someone in your line gets hit with an IED, 360 rotational fire. You kill every motherf*cker on the street.'” McCord said that he had also witnessed the order carried out, saying: “I’ve seen it many times, where people are just walking down the street and an IED goes off and the troops open fire and kill them.”
High-level orders to kill civilians in the context of retaliation for attacks on forces have already been successfully prosecuted as a war crime. In 1944, German SS Obersturmbannführer Herbert Kappler ordered the execution of civilians in the ratio of ten to one for every German soldier killed in a March 1944 attack by Italian partisans. Kappler was sentenced to life in prison. The executions took place in the Caves of Ardeatine in Italy, and were made into the subject of a movie starring Richard Burton. None of the lower-ranking soldiers who actually carried the order out were prosecuted.
Kauzlarich is the focus of a book by Pulitzer Prize winner David Finkel, “The Good Soldiers.” The journal follows the 2-16, a famed regiment in Army lore, into action in the heart of New Baghdad, an eastern zone close to Muqtada Al-Sadr’s enclave, which saw a high level of insurgent activity during the 2007 surge. Stieber, McCord’s friend and former unit mate in the 2-16, told Horton:
“In a lot of our opinions the stuff we were doing was creating more hatred against us, and yeah, picking fights, and finding more enemies, and actually the only thing that seemed to change that, and the only thing that seemed to prove worthwhile, was actually sitting down and negotiating with and talking with people we knew had at one time or another attacked us.”
Both McCord and Stieber say they saw their mission as a plan to “out-terrorize the terrorists,” in order to make the general populace more afraid of the Americans than they were of insurgent groups.
In the interview with Horton, Horton pressed Stieber:
“… a fellow veteran of yours from the same battalion has said that you guys had a standard operating procedure, SOP, that said – and I guess this is a reaction to some EFP attacks on y’all’s Humvees and stuff that killed some guys – that from now on if a roadside bomb goes off, IED goes off, everyone who survives the attack get out and fire in all directions at anybody who happens to be nearby … that this was actually an order from above. Is that correct? Can you, you know, verify that?
“Yeah, it was an order that came from Kauzlarich himself, and it had the philosophy that, you know, as Finkel does describe in the book, that we were under pretty constant threat, and what he leaves out is the response to that threat. But the philosophy was that if each time one of these roadside bombs went off where you don’t know who set it … the way we were told to respond was to open fire on anyone in the area, with the philosophy that that would intimidate them, to be proactive in stopping people from making these bombs …”
The attack which spurred the World War II German commander’s retaliatory executions, intended as collective punishment for not informing on partisans, was an IED planted in a garbage container. Kappler’s rank was the equivalent of a lieutenant colonel.
Lt. Col. Kauzlarich was Tillman’s executive officer at the time Tillman was killed in Afghanistan. Tillman was a popular NFL star, who was held up as an example of patriotism by the Bush administration when he enlisted in the Army after the attacks of 911, foregoing a $3.6 million football contract in order to serve instead. Kauzlarich’s investigation was widely criticized, and was followed by a number of others, including a Congressional probe, after which it was determined that the Army had engaged in a cover-up of the true circumstances surrounding Tillman’s death. According to author and former West Point instructor Stan Goff, it was Kauzlarich who gave the order, hotly contested by a platoon leader on the ground, to split Tillman’s unit into two elements. The decision ultimately led to the confusion which led to the official cause of Tillman’s death by “friendly fire.”
Both Stieber and McCord have said that a number of soldiers in Bravo Company refused to carry out Kauzlarich’s order to kill civilians, and agreed among themselves that they would fire into the rooftops of buildings instead. McCord told Van Auken in his April, “you couldn’t just disobey orders to shoot, because they could just make your life hell in Iraq.” In describing reaction among soldiers to hearing the order, McCord has said, “a lot of soldiers wouldn’t do that.”
McCord suddenly found himself in the national spotlight last spring as the soldier who could be seen on grainy video rescuing two wounded children after a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad, which the Pentagon has determined broke no “rules of engagement.” McCord has called rules of engagement at that time in Baghdad “a joke.” The attack was captured through the Apache’s gun camera and leaked to the government watchdog organization WikiLeaks. The soldier who leaked the film, Pfc. Bradley Manning, is now in military prison facing charges of disseminating classified information.
Both Stieber and McCord have become outspoken opponents of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In their talks and interviews, both frequently place the largest share of the blame for atrocities and egregious behavior by American troops on the systematic training which teaches soldiers to “dehumanize” an occupied population. McCord often says of the attacks seen in the 2007 WikiLeaks attack video:
“Instead of people being upset at a few soldiers in a video who were doing what they were trained to do, I think people need to be more upset at the system that trained these soldiers. They are doing exactly what the Army wants them to do.”
“I was in middle school when I saw 9/11 on the news. I saw the hole in the Pentagon firsthand … I understood that there were people out there who wanted to destroy my country and hated my religion … Well, the war was still going on and I was somewhat glad that I hadn’t missed out on the action. I left for basic training in July of 06 and was deployed to Baghdad by Feb of 07 … I learned that the military trains people to hate and dehumanize entire people groups, not showing sadness for the difficult task of “removing evil” … And sadly, the military tries to rob you of what’s inside and the result is people treating killing like a joke and showing little care for human life.”
The death of NFL star Tillman became a major fiasco for the Bush administration after it was revealed that the administration knew that Tillman’s death was not the result of engagement with the enemy, but portrayed it as such and used it as a patriotic rallying point. Bush went so far as to address Tillman’s mourning fans in Cardinals Stadium over the stadium’s Jumbotron. Bush said Tillman was “an inspiration on and off the football field, as with all who made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror.” Wary early on of being used for propaganda purposes, Tillman once told an Army friend that in the event he were killed, “I don’t want them to parade me through the streets.”
What was less well-known was that Tillman staunchly opposed the invasion of Iraq, and the Bush administration in general, by the time of his death. Tillman was an avid reader and excellent student at Arizona State, and read the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau. Another of his favorite authors was anti-war professor Dr. Noam Chomsky.
Tillman’s friend and fellow soldier in Iraq, Spc. Russell Baer, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2005:
“I can see it like a movie screen. We were outside of [an Iraqi city] watching as bombs were dropping on the town…. We were talking. And Pat said, ‘You know, this war is so f*cking illegal.’ And we all said, ‘Yeah.’ That’s who he was. He totally was against Bush.”
Tillman’s mother, Mary Tillman, confirms that he had an appointment with Dr. Chomsky, which Chomsky also confirms, upon his return to the states. Some speculate that Tillman may have been considering going public against the Iraq war, at a time when it was going badly and calls were growing for the impeachment of George Bush. These eventually grew to the point where Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi felt compelled to announce, as a first order of business upon the electoral victories of the Democrats in 2006, that “impeachment is off the table.”
Kevin Tillman, Pat’s brother, who had also enlisted after 911 and was with him in Afghanistan, recounted in a 2006 open letter on the anniversary of Tillman’s death, “How fighting as a soldier would leave us without a voice … until we got out.” Having been touted as a “hero” by the Bush administration upon his enlistment, attention Tillman repeatedly said he did not want, his coming out against the Iraq war (where he also served) would have posed a particularly ticklish problem for the administration. It would be difficult to engage in typical smear tactics against an icon it had created. In addition, the clean-cut, granite-jawed Tillman may have appealed to a particularly critical demographic for the Bush administration, that of young, white, conservative males.
Lt. Col. Kauzlarich, a born-again Christian, came under fire after he likened Tillman’s alleged atheist beliefs as akin to being “worm dirt” when you are dead. In an interview with ESPN, as an explanation for why the Tillman family continued to pursue the case, Kauzlarich, dubbed “Col. K” by his men, offered that it was because they did not believe in an afterlife. He said: “When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don’t believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt.”
Some of Kauzlarich’s former soldiers have said that only certain members of the unit were given permission to talk to embedded author Finkel during his work for “Good Soldiers,” resulting in incidents such as the order for 360 rotational fire never coming to light in the book. McCord has stated that, in general, whenever any reporters were along on a mission, behavior would change for the better.
The 2nd Battalion of the 16th Infantry Regiment, dubbed “The Rangers,” is an historic one in the US Army. During the invasion of Normandy in World War II, it earned the nickname when it fought alongside a regular Ranger unit at Point du Hoc under murderous German fire.
Stieber and McCord are the authors of the widely-circulated “Open Letter of Reconciliation and Responsibility to the Iraqi People,” co-signed by other soldiers as well as civilians, which states in part:
“We did unto you what we would not want done to us. More and more Americans are taking responsibility for what was done in our name. Though we have acted with cold hearts far too many times, we have not forgotten our actions towards you. Our heavy hearts still hold hope that we can restore inside our country the acknowledgment of your humanity, that we were taught to deny….”
Both Tillman’s mother and Gen. Wesley Clark have opened the door to speculation that Tillman may have been murdered, rather than a victim of a purely accidental friendly fire incident. In a 2007 interview with Keith Olbermann on “MSNBC,” Clark called Mrs. Tillman’s suspicions “very possible.”
Some facts which remain unanswered to this day about Tillman’s death are:
- The military doctor who ascertained Tillman’s death wounds as three, closely-spaced shots to the forehead, at a range of about ten yards, or closer, immediately suspected foul play and asked his command to open a criminal investigation. It was denied.
- Tillman’s body armor and uniform were burned, completely contrary to regulations, and his diary never recovered.
- It was revealed in 2007 that there were Special Operations Forces snipers in the area, possibly private contractors in uniform, though no one really knows why.
- No evidence at all of enemy fire was found at the scene. No one was hit by enemy fire, nor was any government equipment struck.
A letter has just been released by the Tillman family in which Tillman’s father tells one of the generals in charge of one of the investigations “f- you.”