Monday, August 24, 2009

An Evolution

*Retold with permission.

We sustained a grenade attack back in May that, in my opinion, had a very unusual outcome. Foremost, we sustained no injuries, for which I’m quite thankful. Also unusual to random small attacks in Iraq, we saw it coming and were ready for it. Lastly, we got the guy. But even that doesn’t accurately explain what happened. There’s a lot more to the story.

In and around Mosul, the biggest threat we face is from grenade and RKG3 (stick grenade-style shape charge) attacks. They run the full gamut in terms of lethality, but the RKG3s are among the few weapons that can penetrate an MRAP vehicle (mine-resistant ambush protected) and cause catastrophic damage. In this situation we were lucky. The device was a homemade, crush-wire grenade loaded with ball bearings.

As we were driving, my gunner (in the second vehicle) noticed a man who, unlike most other Iraqis when we roll through, was walking towards the curb and towards us. He also had one hand concealed behind his back. My gunner, already tracking him on the 240 (7.62 machine gun), waited to see what he would do as we passed. Nothing.

But as the third and final vehicle neared where the man stood, he reared back his concealed hand to reveal a device. As he threw it, my gunner engaged, and the rear vehicle – also watching him, slammed on the brakes in an effort to not drive into the device’s detonation. They were halfway successful.

The improvised grenade exploded on the unarmored hood of their vehicle, clipping antennas, peppering armor, and blowing off a large piece of the hood itself. It also disabled the vehicle as the ball bearings tore through the engine block and associated cables. The thrower, now dragging himself around a corner and down an alley, was clearly wounded.

We quickly dropped the ramp on my truck and ran out to find this guy, who we found hiding unarmed behind a vehicle in the alley. He’d been shot through the upper thigh, so Doc immediately applied a tourniquet and stabilized him as best he could. The Iraqi, in perfect English, was frantically apologizing for what he’d just done. “I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry! This is the first time I’ve done this.” I believed him, too. He’d done a horrible job of it – thankfully for us.

We quickly contacted local elements of the Iraqi Army and explained that we’d just captured and injured an Iraqi man and they needed to come pick him up. He was going to need medical attention, too. By the time they arrived, the suspect was medically stable, on a stretcher, and still going on about how sorry he was. He also begged that we would take him; not the Iraqis. That wouldn’t happen, however. He just broke an Iraqi law. Onsite, IA commenced questioning, and prepared to book him under guard in an Iraqi hospital. So far, the chain of custody was working superbly.

Over the next couple weeks, every one of the key players, to include the Soldiers in my truck, my gunner, and the occupants from the one behind us, all wrote sworn statements describing the event in full detail. These were turned into the Investigating Judge for review. Based upon our written and verbal statements, and those from the suspect, the judge would determine if the case would go to trial. He determined very quickly that it would.

Here is where we were helped by our battalion Law Enforcement Professional (LEP). Each battalion has one; a civilian contractor (almost always with extensive US law enforcement experience) who is an expert in the complexities and intricacies of Iraqi Rule of Law. He also helped with statement preparation, but the bulk of his work was to prepare us for testimony under oath in court, to answer questions to the satisfaction of the judge, and also maintain the chain of evidence to the standards of Iraqi Rule of Law. As far as I’m concerned, he’s an absolute expert, and he provided invaluable assistance.

Due largely to a lack of training in forensics, Iraqi courts rely predominantly on witness testimony, ensuring that they corroborate the scenario beyond all shadow of a doubt. Our LEP prepared us for detailed questions about the suspects’ clothing, actions, height, identity, and our various roles in the incident. It went flawlessly, the case went to trail, and the suspect was convicted. At present, he is in Iraqi prison awaiting a sentencing trial.

This is my third tour over here, so it’s been truly amazing to watch the evolution from what once happened to what happens now. Rather than arresting the guy, putting him in a US hospital and allowing him to wait, without charges, in a US detention facility, we’re doing far better. We detained the man, provide lifesaving medical care on site, relinquished custody to our host nation security forces. Rather than being freed on a bribe or a threat, he remained in custody following his medical care, went to trial with a lawyer of his own (a female lawyer, interestingly), was tried, found guilty based upon our sworn testimony in court, and will soon be sentenced. And we have had the privilege of observing this from the point of capture, throughout the trial, and to the present where he awaits sentencing.

I’m pleased our part was small in all this. Iraqi Rule of Law may be complex, but it’s straightforward. Chain of evidence and custody were maintained, the man received fair trial, and we are not stuck housing him indefinitely in some detention facility. I’m also pleased that none of my Soldiers were injured. Many commanders have not been so lucky. And equally pleasing is this: everything worked; we just stood back and watched. I’d say this is a very overt step in the right direction.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. Great story, it is good to hear of the positive side of things for a change.