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Wednesday, May 05, 2004

"I Hope People Don't Lose Faith in Us": A Soldier Discusses the Prison Abuse Incidents

This letter about the prison abuse incidents, received May 4 from U.S. Army Spc. Joe Roche in Iraq, speaks eloquently without any need for further comment from me:
Dear Amy,

...about the abuse at the prison. I'm at a place right now where there are thousands of U.S. soldiers. I went to breakfast and dinner at the KBR dining hall here. It is huge, hundreds of soldiers gathered to eat. Around us are large-screen tvs, and yes, the news was mostly about the prison abuse.

Everyone is so angry. I mean, angry! It is as if those soldiers hurt us more than the enemies here in Iraq have. I don't think that if that RPG last week had hit and killed us in my hummwv, there would have been any of the damage done to our cause here that those soldiers have done. I remember when I worked for the University of Minnesota Police Department that when one police officer acted wrong and was captured on camera, anywhere in the U.S., it was as if all police everywhere were made the bad guys, blamed and hurt. Now I'm feeling that here.

I can't tell you of the outbursts by my fellow soldiers at those pictures. For one thing, it is mostly swear words and I don't want to write that to you. Amy, this is a powerful blow to us.

As you know, we have done raids and captured some of the top terrorists in Baghdad over the past months. My sister has some dramatic pictures of at least one raid. In all of those, we handled the enemy w/ respect. Our big bosses always pressed us on the Geneva Convention rules before raids, and we have taken many classes on ROEs (rules of engagement) and on the proper treatment of prisoners. There are rosters w/ all our names on them for these classes because dealing w/ prisoners is major concern of our leadership.

My battalion has caught car bombers, weapons' smugglers, and those laying IEDs to kill us. We've even captured in raids those who fired mortars at our base on Baghdad Island. And EVERY TIME, we treated them w/ respect and took care to give them full medical treatment, food and clothing.

Let me recount to you a story that [name and unit deleted] told Tom Ricks of the Washington Post when he visited last month. One day one of his best friends and another soldier were hit by an IED in a hummwv in front of him. They got the one soldier out who was badly injured, but the fire was so bad that they couldn't get his friend out. They don't know if he was alive as he burned, but they had to watch. Now, that street that this happened on was one where they had built schools, improved much infrastructure, many many projects to make it a better and safer place. ...When the IED blew, across the street were some of those very same neighborhood people cheering. They cheered as our fellow American burned and the other one was dragged out. Now, these are tankers, and they have big BIG guns, and all were ready to fire. The soldiers, all of them seeing the tragedy of the attack, and seeing the sick group cheering across the street, they all held their composure. No one fired a shot, no one did anything inappropriate. They did exactly as they were trained. They acted more professional and disciplined in a manner that I don't think many other people in the world could have. All because they cheered, those people were not to be engaged or harassed. That is what we live w/ out here. And Amy, our soldiers, your soldiers, they acted supremely better and more heroic for our country in that scene. Those scum will remember the restraint and composure of those Americans, even if today they are still infected w/ this sick hate of us. Contact Mr. Ricks if you can because [the soldier] gave him a powerful quote that he thought well accompanied that experience, and perhaps he can elaborate even more from [his] account.

So you can imagine how horrified and truly angry everyone is.

I guess that in any job, any profession, anywhere we will find bad eggs. It is just that it seems shocking that even, well, those soldiers there have hurt us.

Let me just say on a personal note that I hope all those people who have given us support and prayed for us will accept my assurance that your anger at the abuse it shared by us in my battalion, by many more soldiers around me that I'm encountering right now, and that no one should have any fear that such abuse is done by us. Frankly, I'm just shocked and angry. I hope people don't lose faith in us over this. Those soldiers are idiots, and have attacked our country in a manner perhaps more painful than our enemies have. No one committed and dedicated to this mission should feel that abuse is reflective of what we are doing. It is completely the opposite....

-Joe

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Posted by Amy Ridenour at 12:32 AM

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