THE CRIMES OF SEAL TEAM 6
January 11, 2017 3:29 AM   Subscribe

 
Would really like to say I'm surprised. I don't have a problem with special operations. I have a problem with special operations having zero oversight.
posted by Punkey at 5:07 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


This is my surprised face.
posted by Bringer Tom at 5:12 AM on January 11 [10 favorites]


This is my PoC face.
posted by infini at 5:26 AM on January 11 [10 favorites]


I've read about 2/3 of the article and I've not yet seen any shocking 'crime'. Occasional unnecessary mutilation of dead bodies, borne of frustration with the shittty situation they're in. Given that the US apparently dropped one bomb every 20 minutes last year, these are the 'crimes' of Seal Team Six?

Here's a novel idea: instead of 1. putting your best and brightest, most motivated young men into an incredibly shitty situation and telling them to solve that situation with deadly weapons that you train them to use and then 2. punishing them for occasionally cutting off a finger or head of the person who was just trying to kill them or their friends 2 minutes ago, how about we just don't fucking bomb other countries anymore?

Fuck this article. I'd like to see Bush and Cheney tried for War Crimes. I don't really care what any individual SEAL, soldier or marine might have done. Shouldn't have been there in the first place.
posted by natteringnabob at 5:27 AM on January 11 [51 favorites]


.
posted by buzzman at 5:36 AM on January 11




From the little I've read just graduating from the extreme training must leave many of the individuals with some degree of PTSD, then they're sent into an utterly ambiguous brutal environment.
posted by sammyo at 5:40 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Next week in The Intercept: Russian special forces deliver 23 babies in Aleppo on one day! Also adopt puppy!
posted by spitbull at 5:57 AM on January 11 [34 favorites]


I've read about 2/3 of the article and I've not yet seen any shocking 'crime'. Occasional unnecessary mutilation of dead bodies, borne of frustration with the shittty situation they're in.

The very first occurrence of mutilation described in the article is after an airstrike that killed civilians, including women and children, when a SEAL shot a fleeing man, approached the fallen body, saw that he was still alive, and shot him in the head without checking whether he was armed. (And then mutilated the body.)

So whether it's true or not, a crime is described. (Though maybe you're disputing whether or not the crime is shocking.)
posted by XMLicious at 6:05 AM on January 11 [27 favorites]


Miko if you are linking to Politico you should see this which is also upthread somewhere.
posted by adamvasco at 6:11 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


a SEAL shot a fleeing man.... etc

It is a crime, and deplorable, but my point is, on the scale of the crimes our government perpetrated in those wars, hell even the one perpetrated by the Air Force pilots directly before the SEAL shooting that man, this is not shocking to me, and I don't care. The responsibility for war crimes should be held by those in command.
posted by natteringnabob at 6:13 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Fuck this article. I'd like to see Bush and Cheney tried for War Crimes. I don't really care what any individual SEAL, soldier or marine might have done. Shouldn't have been there in the first place.

Is there a shortage of judges? Why not both?

Your argument is equivalent to saying, 9-11 killed 3000 people, no point looking into incidents like the Boston bombing which only killed three.
posted by biffa at 6:24 AM on January 11 [27 favorites]


The responsibility for war crimes should be held by those in command.

"I was just following orders" is back baby!
posted by turntraitor at 6:27 AM on January 11 [15 favorites]


Thinking in terms of crimes that are too small-scale to care about, to the point of using scare quotes, seems like exactly the opposite of what we should be doing when we've now got a president who openly talked about murdering families.
posted by XMLicious at 6:28 AM on January 11 [12 favorites]


SEAL Team 6 comes under the command of JSOC which historically has been unaccountable specializing as it does in "dirty warfare".
posted by adamvasco at 6:30 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


Next week in The Intercept: Russian special forces deliver 23 babies in Aleppo on one day! Also adopt puppy!

"Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
posted by turntraitor at 6:33 AM on January 11 [7 favorites]


War always brutalizes soldiers and innocents are always victims. The problem with special forces is that they see far more action, they live in a culture of not having to obey rules that apply to the rest of the service and their officers don't always go through the hazing they go through. It is a system that can't fail to lead to abuse and crimes. None of these people will ever be the same again after either.
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:35 AM on January 11 [11 favorites]


isn't funny how all the people with giant public hard-ons for the founding fathers turn a blind spot to their stances on things like religion and standing armies
posted by entropicamericana at 6:36 AM on January 11 [13 favorites]


I want to know how Fifi got his nickname.

Or maybe I don't.
posted by emelenjr at 6:44 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


I've read about 2/3 of the article and I've not yet seen any shocking 'crime'.

I read the whole article, and I saw no 'shocking' crimes.

note the difference in quotes

I saw descriptions of a bunch of war crimes, but I'm beyond being shocked by the shit the US military drops on the rest of the world. The US doesn't give a shit about its war crimes - the issue here is the units that don't even follow the military's own internal procedures.

Seriously: an article that said something like "US troops commit war crimes in all sorts of places" would be so obvious and boring that no-one would publish it.
posted by pompomtom at 6:47 AM on January 11 [13 favorites]


Mutilating the bodies of the dead, particularly taking trophies in war, as well as taking trophies from lynchings and Native Americans, is also something that seems to be ingrained in American culture.
posted by XMLicious at 6:49 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


To be fair, mutilating the bodies of enemies has a long history in human culture and much of what we know about war as a species specific behavior.
posted by spitbull at 7:07 AM on January 11 [17 favorites]


The very first occurrence of mutilation described in the article is after an airstrike that killed civilians, including women and children, when a SEAL shot a fleeing man, approached the fallen body, saw that he was still alive, and shot him in the head without checking whether he was armed. (And then mutilated the body.)

Yeah, I mean, it's just fucking surreal to get the impression that "mutilated the body" is the part of that paragraph that the writer and his intended audience have a problem with.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:15 AM on January 11 [7 favorites]


Yeah, I mean, it's just fucking surreal to get the impression that "mutilated the body" is the part of that paragraph that the writer and his intended audience have a problem with.

The article is about Seal Team 6 troops, who are meant to be optimally-trained special forces.

US troops massacring civilians in Afghanistan from a great distance is hardly news.
posted by pompomtom at 7:19 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Having a two friends in what they refer to as the "spec ops community" (one Army, one Navy, one retired, one honorably discharged), the biggest problem they have with what you read about special operations is that you're reading anything at all. The original point of these guys was that they are covert... as in, you're not supposed to know that they are there or that they even exist... officially or otherwise. I remember having a beer with the Navy guy watching the SEALs land during operation Desert Storm... on CNN. He was horrified.

The core covert nature of their mission - get in, do the job, get out with minimal if no knowledge that you were there, - has been discarded. That initial mission was what made the Viet Cong shit themselves with fear. A VC officer would just up and disappear, or get shot from a far distance, and they had no idea who or what was doing the damage. This has been replaced with go in spectacularly, blow shit up, get out in a blaze of glory with a trail of bodies in the wake, and do a press conference where the head of a terrorist is in full view. Not what they initially signed on for, and those decisions are made from up above, not by them.
posted by prepmonkey at 7:36 AM on January 11 [11 favorites]


It's hardly a novel or informed position to be repulsed and sickened by news like this.

Pushing that down, as one must, and hardening one's heart, as one's must, to get to the end of pieces like this: okay. Let's think tactically. Members of our Special Forces must have had vastly more military history and modern asymmetric military theory than I have (me: 0)-- but would you not want to capture intelligence sources, rather than 'canoeing' them for LOLZ? This seems trivially obvious.

I mean, I can excuse some degree of brutal, awful degradation in the camp of 'Well, war is awful, and I personally don't think any of our forces should be there, anyways.' But incompetence, I cannot excuse.
posted by mrdaneri at 7:36 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


What has always struck me as odd is how we always know or are told how evil our enemies are in warfare but seldom learn about or are told about our own forces. The rapes, mutilations, killing of innocent civilians and prisoners of war has a rather long history for us. I know a bit of this firsthand and have also read a great deal about it.
posted by Postroad at 7:37 AM on January 11 [13 favorites]


This is my "where have people been for fifty years or so" face. Ever since The Green Berets, you've got this glamorization of Special Forces as being the elite warriors who are willing to do the dirty deeds necessary to keep you safe, even if you don't appreciate them and/or spit on them. This myth has been remarkably persistent since then, through the Rambo movies and the evolution of G.I. Joe from being an average grunt to a team of special operatives all the way up to the present day. The exemplar of the semi-mythical operative, Chris Kyle, lied about any number of things and adopted the symbol of a comic-book vigilante, The Punisher, as his own. Going by postings on various sites, including most of the military subreddits, there is no shortage of young men who are deeply attracted to this notion, to the point that they may not be interested in the military at all if they can't be a SEAL or Green Beret. I'm sure that they're motivated by the numerous former operatives--especially SEALs--who have followed in Kyle's wake with their own books, lectures, workout programs, nutritional supplements, T-shirts, etc.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:40 AM on January 11 [8 favorites]


Man, I've met so many "ex-Navy Seals/Army Rangers" in barrooms that I think there must be many more of them than the pentagon admits!
posted by spitbull at 8:00 AM on January 11 [19 favorites]


I'd like to see Bush and Cheney tried for War Crimes.

Just them? They haven't been in office for 8 years. This shit didn't stop with them, and as others have noted this is just par for the course if you are aware of American history.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:12 AM on January 11 [12 favorites]


2.5 degrees offtopic, but informational. The rising popularity of military and law enforcement 'oathkeepers.'

They will of course, defend 'us' here at 'home' with their reasoned understanding of constitutional jurisprudence. And violence.
posted by mrdaneri at 8:15 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


I guess what I'm trying to say is that until we are willing to hold elected officials of our own political persuasion accountable this fascism will continue to fester in our political and military institutions. The letter (D or R) behind someone's name should not shield them from criticism. This unfortunately seems to be the way things go in this country. It's always wrong when the other side does it, but when our side does it we at best look the other way and at our worst defend these types of practices.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:19 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


It's hardly a novel or informed position to be repulsed and sickened by news like this.

Stupid people and their wishy washy humanity.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:21 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]


Consider for a moment our current political climate. Now consider the likelihood that a group of predominantly white soldiers prominently held in popular culture to be heroes, considered elite and awe-inspiring by most, are going to be taken to task for allegations that their activities included contempt for and violation of basic ideas of civility and decency while in service of killing brown people on the other side of the world.

I am picturing this likelihood tracked by a meter, with a needle pinned hard to the left side and not even twitching.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:26 AM on January 11 [7 favorites]


While I like to think of myself as sophisticated and jaded on matters of American war crimes, the specific details in this article were sickening to me.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:48 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


The rising popularity of military and law enforcement 'oathkeepers.'

Given their willingness support a candidate campaigning on policies that are explicit violations of the 1st amendment's freedom of religion protection, and who enjoys the support of hostile foreign powers, 'oathbreakers' would be far more on the nose.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:16 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]


Next week in The Intercept: Russian special forces deliver 23 babies in Aleppo on one day! Also adopt puppy!

It is astonishing to me that anyone could read that article and thing the most salient thing is some other, essentially unrelated reporting done on the same site. Do you dispute the accusations made about Seal Team 6?
posted by Copronymus at 9:45 AM on January 11 [8 favorites]


To be fair, mutilating the bodies of enemies has a long history in human culture and much of what we know about war as a species specific behavior.

According to Wikipedia this article (abstract-only) says for example that there were considerably fewer decapitations by U.S. forces in the European theater during WWII, so as a phenomenon it does seem like something which can be characterized at a far more specific level than species-wide.

If anyone knows of a good, openly-available source that tries to objectively examine whether this happens at a higher rate in the course of American military operations compared to those of other professional militaries, I'd welcome a link to it. That's the impression I get, but it could just be because we have a much higher volume of military activity, or because my impression is being formed in passing from more general English-language stuff about wars.
posted by XMLicious at 9:48 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Occasional unnecessary mutilation of dead bodies, borne of frustration with the shittty situation they're in.

Just some light desecration of the dead, no big deal.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:59 AM on January 11 [11 favorites]


Not exactly what you asked for, XMLicious, but On Killing by Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman looks into some of this stuff.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:02 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


While I like to think of myself as sophisticated and jaded on matters of American war crimes, the specific details in this article were sickening to me.
We are days away from a Republican entering the White House, so it's OK to be sickened by war crimes again.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:15 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]


The rising popularity of military and law enforcement 'oathkeepers.'

In my experience, the special ops guys are the least Jesusy (in deed, in thought, and in ostentation) in pretty much the entire military, including the non-Christian chaplains.
posted by Etrigan at 10:27 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


I'd honestly take routine desecration of the dead a hundred times over harming and killing innocents, if I had to choose.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:35 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately it's not an either-or thing, so minimizing that particular war crime will not decrease other sorts of war crimes but may actually encourage them.
posted by XMLicious at 10:50 AM on January 11 [8 favorites]


I keep deleting thoughts. This is more complex that it ought to be. The map feature isn't the thing it represents. You don't get wet tracing your finger over the blue feature, but you do when you have to wade across it.

If a theme can be said to exist, it might be accountability and oversight. It's easy to make rules. For example "call out." That works for the debriefing officer, but it's a bit more edgy for the guy who's going to kick in the door. Taking body parts and mutilation doesn't rise above the justification for the operation, but it's indicative of moral drift. This is complicated because the bright line that exists in theory doesn't translate well to the situation on the ground. We want them to kill efficiently, sometimes with ruthless brutality, but we don't want them to like it. We like to see the videos showing the SPECTRE gunships blanketing a group of (what we suppose are) enemy fighters with a spread of 40mm cannon fire, turning them into scattered pieces of rapidly cooling meat. We don't much like that canoeing stuff, though. And don't kick the bodies, for Pete's sake.

Still, I support both the just war and just conduct proscriptions that we are supposed to attach to all our military excursions. It's just that, somewhere down the chain of command, your soldiers are going to represent the accumulated will of the entire chain of command. As we all know, that will is the manifested will of us.

I used to think couch commandos had no right to judge my actions as a soldier, because they had no real understanding of how their bright line, for me, turns into another stream crossing. I have changed my mind. You are supposed to be outraged--but take it up the chain of command.
posted by mule98J at 11:01 AM on January 11 [15 favorites]


WW2's western front was like a practice run for Vietnam. Beware reporting on WW2 - it's been so romanticized, all the history around it is poisoned with jingoism
posted by Strange_Robinson at 11:15 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]


It is astonishing to me that anyone could read that article and thing the most salient thing is some other, essentially unrelated reporting done on the same site. Do you dispute the accusations made about Seal Team 6

I don't even see any positive stories about Russia on the site, so I guess that jab was over their continued skepticism of the hacking story?
posted by atoxyl at 11:44 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


SEAL Team 6 and any of the other special forces the US operates are no more and no less than glorified death squads. Their whole reason for existence is to be unaccountable and kill people the equally unaccountable drones can't get.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:11 PM on January 11 [12 favorites]


the most salient thing is some other, essentially unrelated story

We disagree on the unrelatedness. The Intercept has credibility issues for me. That said I have no basis to dispute the facts reported here, nor did I say I did.

Also, it's arguably war itself which is the species-specific behavior here. War seems universally to involve a complex mixture of rule-governed, socially conventionalized, morally inhibited conduct and absolute maximal brutality and symbolic excessive violence. I have no doubt some nation-state militaries have better records than others over time, but the moral high ground is often claimed (as here) by the far stronger military force in assymetric warfare (and to demonize the opponent as savage or barbarian or terroristic) in ways that disguise or deny the brutality of the stronger force.

A laser-guided bomb mutilates the fuck out of the bodies it encounters, after all.

I'm not excusing anything reported here, nor dismissing it. War is disgusting.
posted by spitbull at 12:23 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I'm not excusing anything reported here, nor dismissing it.

Then what was the point of your initial comment:

Next week in The Intercept: Russian special forces deliver 23 babies in Aleppo on one day! Also adopt puppy!

So you're not dismissing or excusing what is reported, but The Intercept has credibility issues......and they are totally Russian propaganda???

I am confused.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:30 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


Unfortunately it's not an either-or thing, so minimizing that particular war crime will not decrease other sorts of war crimes but may actually encourage them.

Let's just change that may to almost certainly, mmmkay?
posted by nequalsone at 12:39 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Man, I've met so many "ex-Navy Seals/Army Rangers" in barrooms that I think there must be many more of them than the pentagon admits!
Including the trainers, there are like 13,000 of them at any one time. I've met thousands. It's not quite as exclusive a club as you likely imagine, especially considering that guys often rotate out after four years. Sometimes guys who have the ranger tab, but don't actually serve in the Ranger Battalion are referred to as rangers, which also swells the numbers.

I'm not trying excuse any specific incidents, but it's probably more helpful to be angry at the system that leads to a never ending state of war and those who perpetuate and benefit from it than to be angry at the guys who receive the best training our military can summon to turn them into killing machines. It's a bit disingenuous to be aghast when they turn out to react savagely, especially when you are more than likely talking about a relatively small percentage of the war fighters who commit these kind of barbaric acts. War is messy and fucked up and killing innocents is what you are signing up for when you vote to go to war. The notion of antiseptic "surgical strikes" that only kill bad guys is unrealistic at best and craven lies at worst.

Tales of desecrated corpses and innocents killed are horrifying, but are pretty much a feature of war since pre-history. Sensational as these stories are in their ability to shock and outrage us, the real horror is the decision to start and continue wars without extraordinary reasons to do so. It's impossible to conduct a survey, but I'd bet a lot of money that the average SEAL is also disgusted by some of the stories presented here.
posted by Lame_username at 12:52 PM on January 11 [7 favorites]


I'd bet a lot of money that the average SEAL is also disgusted by some of the stories presented here.

I'd bet just as much money that the average SEAL would do things like the stories presented here, in the heat of battle. And double or nothing that if the average SEAL didn't, the average SEAL wouldn't report them if they saw one of their battle buddies doing them. And quadruple or nothing that if some other SEAL did report them, the average SEAL would close ranks around the offender, not the reporter. The average person in any given group is pretty fucking awful in a lot of situations.
posted by Etrigan at 12:57 PM on January 11 [7 favorites]


I have read reporting that special forces guys at Bagram created the culture of torture and mistreatment there -- chilling stuff. The story I read didn't say what unit(s) they were from though. Apparently it was typical to not wear any insignia.
posted by grobstein at 1:04 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


I'm not commenting on the article or it's framing (no time) but there's at least one really serious allegation (imo): during an operation called Pantera, Britt Slabinski ordered his team to shoot all males they encountered, whether they were armed or not. An inquiry later determined that everyone they killed had been armed, but he still gave an order that could have resulted in the deaths of civilians. It says he was "blackballed" from Seal Team Six for that.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:18 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I know the "just following orders" stuff has culturally reached the level of mockery, but I really, really think that the mockery actually helps commanders avoid responsibility for things they should justly be more responsible for, such as command climate.

When you take 17 year olds and train them in a culturally homogenous setting for years, you cannot hold them morally responsible for acting as their adult peers are modeling for them. You need to hold the people modeling that behavior who have an obligation to do otherwise accountable.

I have a friend who killed someone in kind of questionable circumstances. He did so primarily because his commander had created an environment where that kind of thing was encouraged, and who had publicly declared a bounty of a four day pass for anyone who accomplished those particular circumstances.

My buddy wasn't prosecuted- but should he have been? Should we expect all infantry soldiers to memorize the law of war in its deep detail, or should NCOs and officers be held accountable for the training level we tolerate?
posted by corb at 2:24 PM on January 11 [11 favorites]


The notion of antiseptic "surgical strikes" that only kill bad guys is unrealistic at best and craven lies at worst.

Isn't this story simply documenting that fact? Dismissing it as "tales" that are "sensational" seems like something one would say to dissuade belief in the rest of your point: that a group of warfighters engaging in war is inevitably going to, as a group and as a result of the orders they've been given to prosecute a war, commit and abet war crimes; and there is no exaggeration or hype in saying so, it's just a fact.

If we pull back from describing specific atrocities carried out in our collective name, as a country, in real wars, and leave the articulation of the problem to handwavily saying "War is hell, and it has been since pre-history" then I think doing so works to defuse and dampen any horror that might be felt at what you're saying we should really be horrified by, the decision to go to war in the first place.

We should be horrified even by war with extraordinary justifying reasons, because the war crimes will be committed and abetted no matter what.

How else to promote awareness of that fact, than for someone to document the savagery and barbarism you point to, and for others to witness and internalize the consequences?
posted by XMLicious at 2:26 PM on January 11 [7 favorites]


To extend XMLicious' point, an out-of-date Mother Jones' piece documenting the scale of SOCOM forces. There's no indication, either politically or of international necessity, that I can see, that will lead to this scale decreasing soon.

I can presume that we can consider issues such as those documented here will continue, and as others have noted, will continue without consequence. The blowback will land for a long while yet.

I'm a taxpayer. It makes me sad that the US flag is synonymous with sadistic violence against other combatants in some parts of the world.

I have no expectation of 'clean, antiseptic' combat; I do expect US forces to lead the world in their practice of internationally-accepted standards.
posted by mrdaneri at 3:41 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


"A few bad apples," eh. Huh.

Fucking unconscionable, and all the concern trolling ("BUT WHAT ABOUT THE DRONE OPERATORS") is bullshit.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:11 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Stressor warning: violence and profanity.

Back in the 80s, in (Fontana, Chino?) I was hanging out with an old cholo who had done downtime twice for manslaughter. We were drinking beer and getting philosophical, me talking about the Hospital Corps and 3rd Marine Division, him about the turf wars of the late 60s and 70s. He said, the first time he killed someone, he cried,barfed and almost pissed and shit his pants, like his body just wanted to get it out. The 2nd was about the same but not so bad, but the 3rd time scared him, there wasn't a physical reaction, just a little numbness. The body wasn't something special to try avoid looking at after the 3rd time it was just meat.

Later came the relief, when the lack of physical reaction didn't mean you became a mad dog lashing out at any provocation. Then even later, came the kinda melancholic nostalgia for the innocent person you used to be. No biggie, just a little cross cultural empathy between a Latino ex-con and a hillbilly vet.

We send kids out to engage in multiple homicides then get bent about how and how many they kill. That's not to condone war crimes, they're morally wrong and counterproductive, but even Attila was said to only fight his armies 1 season every 3 years. Current trials seem somewhat like entrapment. I've thought about it for a few decades and still don't have a good overall answer.
posted by ridgerunner at 5:39 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


My buddy wasn't prosecuted- but should he have been?

Yes? Maybe it would be a grey area if the commander had given him a direct order, even an illegal one, instead of just creating an encouraging environment plus the enticement of a four-day pass (here's hoping there's no afterlife so the victim never had to find out exactly how much time off their human life was worth) but I don't see how it is tricky as described. The excuse that cops and soldiers alike have always given for killing those who didn't need killing is that they thought their lives were in danger. and it works most of the time because if it were true, you could understand. but "I thought my commander would be pleased with me and give me a prize" is not in the same world as "I thought it was him or me."

prosecute the commander too OF COURSE, and harder, and also don't recruit children. but I don't understand how this becomes a hard question.

Should we expect all infantry soldiers to memorize the law of war in its deep detail, or should NCOs and officers be held accountable for the training level we tolerate?

Yes and yes.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:13 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


Chris Kyle, lied about any number of things

I spent several years lying about what happened before wrapping my head around what I had and hadn't done and I wasn't a sniper.
posted by ridgerunner at 6:39 PM on January 11 [6 favorites]


Glossing over these crimes undermines all those service members who faced similar situations and didn't commit war crimes.
posted by atchafalaya at 6:45 AM on January 12 [11 favorites]


The Intercept has credibility issues for me.

I'm curious, what are those issues? I've read the Politico article posted here and didn't see anything suggesting credibility issues of their reporting, just a fluffy piece, which read like a Glassdoor review, complaining about regular old management dysfunction which exists in the majority of organizations out there.
posted by shala at 7:27 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


It is a crime, and deplorable, but

What's the point of having any more sentence continuing past that?
posted by phearlez at 12:48 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


You are supposed to be outraged--but take it up the chain of command.

This.

“the command has proven to be incapable and unwilling to hold itself accountable for war crimes.”

What a shock. Especially how vehemently we prosecuted ourselves after firebombing Dresden.

Disclaimer, I know some of the people here so my perspective is skewed. But special ops in general and the SEALs in particular have gotten this exploited branding thing going on. Been going on at least since Nifty Package too.

They’ve been placed in the “hunting terrorists” role by the GWOT, et.al. by a congress that DOESN’T WANT TO KNOW how they do what they do, even as it deifies them.
Hell, Cole defines the whole problem from the outset in his piece – “the most celebrated of the U.S. military’s special mission units…”

Take any group of people in a war zone and roll dice long enough and eventually the odds will hit and you’ll have a war crime.

“Although this former SEAL acknowledged that war crimes are wrong, he understood how they happen. “You ask me to go living with the pigs, but I can’t go live with pigs and then not get dirty.””
This.
The emotional impact and mechanics of it are sort of like – picture someone busts into your house and kills all your children but one he takes hostage. You (for sake of argument) have a gun. You confront the killer. He brutally blinds the last kid before you can react, and then, with your spouse standing behind you, throws the gun away and says “I surrender.”
We all know what you *should* do. But that doesn’t always play out that way and enough people wind up going the other way. Particularly depending on your spouses reaction and words.
In this case your spouse would be the American people and their expectations.

The core conflict in the FPP here is set up to be – the SEALs are seen as heroes, but in reality, they commit war crimes. Leaving out that other warfighters commit war crimes and stating reasonably, if obviously, that less accountability means lax discipline.
But what’s the root cause of the lack of accountability? The mystique laid on the unit exploiting them for their popular (and commercial) appeal which means they get exploited politically.
The fact that they’re *celebrated*

Know how much Winkler’s hatchets cost? More than an enlisted man is willing to shell out even with combat pay (you can get a goddamn big HDTV instead). Most of those were bought by private donors. To be fair, he goes into that.
But that picture (“Winkler hatchet from Bissonnette’s personal collection.”) illustrates the problem perfectly. A field hatchet like Winkler makes isn’t going to fail. But it’s bulkier, that is, its profile is less smooth, than say, a field knife or a kukri (also pictured but not highlighted). Guys like Raso killed with them, yes, but also used them for breaching locks and doors and y’know, chopping stuff like you would do living outdoors. Kukri’s are my personal preference because you can go through scrub and manzanita. But for firewood, gotta go axe. Are you in a small brush or thicker tree environment? Not to go off on a technical tangent, and yeah, you can go a little nuts identifying with your tools/endeavor (hence the terms “gun nut”, “car nut”, “sports nut”) but the hatchets themselves don’t make someone hack off scalp or fingers. It’s actually easier to do this with a kukri (or take heads for that matter)
Some LRRP’s did this in Vietnam (Tiger comes to mind). And indeed, Col. Hackworth’s perspective on all this is instructive.

Not that asshats like Kyle weren’t buying into their own bullshit. But let’s be clear, you have people like Luttrell getting the word from Naval Special Warfare Command that, y’know, he should write “Lone Survivor.”

I’m sorry if warcom wants good PR but there’s no hypocrisy or blowback on the operators themselves unless the average rate of war crimes per unit is unreasonably higher in special operations.

And again, from the piece: “Most SEALs did not commit atrocities, the sources said…”
SEALs lied which is contrary to their oath which again sets up this “knock them off the pedestal we just put them on” bullshit.

“Extreme and unnecessary violence” happened “during during multiple high-risk, exhausting, and traumatizing tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

How shocking.

Considering the Iraq war was unnecessary in the first place and we let everyone in command skate on that. Oh, but THESE guys…

The hypocrisy lay in the American public expecting nice, sanitary warfighters with little risk and few American casualties and so supporting bombing operations that kill thousands more innocent people than any squad full of small arms could be capable of in 10 years. Hell, even if we had absolutely committed death squads, there’s only so much you can do without crew served weaponry and a supply chain.

Aircraft though? Yeah, they asplode the hell out of widespread areas which tends to mutilate bodies by design.

Everyone quotes the Nuremberg defense, but forgets the Yamashita standard.

Why do you think private military contractors got so popular with the executive branch? Even morso than special operators.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:30 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]


Some LRRP’s did this in Vietnam (Tiger comes to mind). And indeed, Col. Hackworth’s perspective on all this is instructive.

Don't get me started on Hackworth.

Our LRRP platoon was self-policing. Our platoon was the first organic LRRP platoon used by the army--attached to the 173'd, to gather tactical intelligence for the brigade--this was in November, 1965. We had quite a few applicants who were one-mission scouts. We had more than one Team Leader quit after a few missions. Two teams trained at Project Delta (in May, 1966), then came back to school the rest of us, but mostly we made it up as we went along.

We learned to debrief ourselves after each mission, for several reasons. Mostly we wanted to compare notebooks, to ensure that our count was right: we used a SALUTE format, probably the same way that it's used nowadays. But beyond that we needed to talk to each other. Sometimes you need your team to tell you that you did okay, when you try to take on a load that you don't have to carry alone. We didn't get the same vetting that SEALs do. But we did vote on who gets put out of the platoon. We had to say why, though, in front of him and the rest. Sometimes team members got switched around, but that was usually due to casualties rather than performance issues.

I remember one of the guys got real flakey after he came back from stateside leave. He seemed sort of preoccupied at briefings. After a fight he emptied a magazine on a body that someone else killed. It freaked out the rest of the team, so they shuffled him out to one of the infantry battalions. Another guy got carried away and whacked off a VC ear during a fight. He got counseled by the rest of the team, to see if he was losing it. He said he was fine, the ear was just a thing, because the VC died before he got done killing him. He stayed with the platoon. I guess you could call those things war crimes, but to me they were just shit happens things, and nobody needed to go to jail.

We thought of ourselves as efficient and skilled. Killing was our art. It's not hard for me to see how spec ops units that train and live like these guys (SEALs and such) can drift into an isolated version of hell.
posted by mule98J at 7:06 PM on January 13 [9 favorites]


Last night I watched Command and Control, a documentary made last year and now airing on PBS as an episode of American Experience, which discusses the 1980 Damascus incident in which Air Force maintenance personnel accidentally dropped a tool within a missile bunker that triggered a chain of events resulting in the explosion of the missile, destruction of the facility, the deaths of two other Air Force personnel, and the injury of dozens of others.

The film points out how administrative punishments and other forms of retaliation were doled out to several of the lowest-level people involved, like the guy who dropped the tool, but there were no such personal consequences for military commanders overseeing the facilities and procedures, nor designers of the systems, nor the decision-makers who made the choices to construct the arsenal in the first place and to retain the more aging and accident-prone missile systems for diplomatic advantage against the USSR.

It also points out how in DoD reports of thousands of accidents involving nuclear weapons, the blame is almost always attributed to the lowest-level people making foreseeable mistakes or otherwise being involved in accidents that are both foreseeable and inevitable in the course of constructing and maintaining an arsenal of weapons of the volume capable of destroying the world many times over.

There would seem to be the same duality as far as war crimes and other offenses against the law of war: there's the question of the degree of culpability had by the person who is being used as a cog in a machine for high-volume killing of other humans under heterogeneous and stressful circumstances, who commits the offense, analogous to the guy who dropped the wrench socket, and evaluation of those actions fixed within the context of the event; and then there's the culpability of the politicians and other high-level people who set in motion the entire military enterprise, knowing that events of this type are inevitable.

So this is kind re-stating what I said above but I think this duality is the source of some of the apparent tension between tu quoque responses to the article and reactions to the events described in it, saying that if you were in an isolated hell you might do the same thing too, and responses from the perspective of a member of the war-making democracy and of the human race, needing to look at it from outside the functioning system as the bird's-eye-view politicians and commanders are (theoretically) doing.

There need to be lots and lots of people looking at it who aren't just confining themselves to the perspective of the guy holding the wrench, for even the benefit of that guy holding the wrench.
posted by XMLicious at 7:52 AM on January 14 [4 favorites]


(I should also say, in the Damascus incident the guy who dropped the wrench socket was a member of a highly-trained team who specialized in dealing with hypergolic rocket propellant, who was brought in from off-base, so I'm not using "the guy holding the wrench" to demean or to signify that someone in that position is inexpert.)
posted by XMLicious at 7:59 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


So, that the military has a culture of buck-passing is obviously a really big problem, albeit not one unique to the military over other hierarchical organisations.

But just because the fish rots from the head, that doesn't mean you don't have a rotten fish.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:44 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]


"It's not hard for me to see how spec ops units that train and live like these guys (SEALs and such) can drift into an isolated version of hell."

Especially when they get that sort of hero-worship thing instead of being related to as a human being. Buddy of mine was still sleeping with his boots on. He lived out in the middle of corn so not much around him and his hometown treated him like he really was Superman. I'd get calls from him in the middle of the night. Fortunately he had a younger brother. I told him to ask his brother if he'd spend a few nights sleeping in his bed. Or on the couch, whatever.
Worked pretty well. He felt better having someone else nearby who he could trust.

It killed me to read Kyle had been taking Routh to the shooting range like he was cargo. I mean fuck, give him a hug for christ sake, treat him like a brother.
Simple human contact. And it prevents so much bullshit. Just that reality check - we're both here, you're not alone, I'm on your side.

I kind of blame our era for the punisher thing. I had (er, well, still have really) an embossed white skull on my footlocker. And I read a lot of comics. Collected all the punishers.
And you know, you come to the conclusion that, sure it's a neat comic book character, but he's f'ing CRAZY. My oldest had a punisher hat on in the store. I took it off his head and put a Captain America one on him. "You can have THAT one. Not the skull" I said.

To be clear, I don't think Chris Kyle saw my footlocker and went "Oh, that's bad-ass" and fell in love with the punisher. I mean it in the very general sense - the samurai - "there are no small concerns" sense.

(btw yea SALUTE reports still in use some places)


I think there's a lack of recognition though that war is a different - literally - a different dimension. Like stepping through to Narnia or something. A form of madness and someone who is your brother, like Edmund, is the one most likely to fuck up your - and your families - head about it.

Most people don't cut body parts off the dead. But the rules are different and (as mule98J intimated) you need people who have been there to sort of check you.
Especially because the invisible wounds you carry can be the worst and most harmful (and can hurt others around you.)

One can be trained to do and not do a great many things. There's no training for a brutalized conscience and a degraded soul.

And we almost always lay that part off in American society. I mean, we learned SO much from Vietnam. And we just did it again, didn't we? Just stuck guys with amputated limbs into rat infested wards for months at Walter Reed and if they dared talk, fucked up their discharge. Sweet.

I mean jesus, look what happened to Rambo. 1st movie - vet breaks down crying in First Blood "Who are they?! Unless they been me and been there and know what the hell they yellin' about!"
The rest of the movies? Yeah, shitcan all that and watch the supersoldier blow stuff up with none of that messy mental baggage.
*sigh*

how administrative punishments and other forms of retaliation were doled out to several of the lowest-level people involved

It's not just that, it's that so much of that is a waste of money. Look at the Tailhook Scandal. Some navy flyers commit sexual assault and then three low ranking male petty officers all alone in Antarctica get $150,000 worth of pamphlets, video and training on not sexually assaulting people.

So much of this stuff - torture, mutilation, included is not only self-defeating, it's EASILY avoidable or remedied by taking proper steps.

We'd rather hand out the pamphlets though, than admit to any emotion or make a real connection.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:39 AM on January 14 [4 favorites]


My oldest had a punisher hat on in the store. I took it off his head and put a Captain America one on him. "You can have THAT one. Not the skull" I said.

I wish every American parent told their kids that, and why.
posted by skoosh at 10:35 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


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