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Monday, July 26, 2004
A Soldier's Story:
It is April 26, 2003. Sgt. Williams and his platoon’s two vehicle convoy are in the northern city of Mosul, home of hundreds of former Republican Guards. The unit is on red alert status. Down to only two Humvees from the four the platoon had originally, they need additional transportation to carry out their military mission. Their platoon leader, whose vehicle had broken down weeks before in Najaf, instructed the men to find another vehicle suitable for the mission. They spot a Toyota Land Cruiser with a military-style trailer hitch perfect for the mission. It is being driven aggressively by a young Iraqi male, weaving between and cutting off the convoy. Is this a set-up by insurgents? The lead Humvee stops the vehicle. Sgt. Williams’ vehicle pulls up to assist and to secure the position. A crowd of Iraqis gathers on the street and surrounding rooftops. The street is narrow and the smell of danger powerful. The vehicle is quickly impounded and removed. Nobody is injured in the incident. They drive it back to unit headquarters where it is used by the platoon leader for military purposes. As it turns out, the vehicle contains an AK-47 ammo clip and an identification card suggesting that the driver may have been a member of Saddam’s Republican Guard.
Under official Army Rules of Engagement issued to all soldiers involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom, civilian vehicles may be appropriated for military necessity, subject to certain procedures and reasonable compensation rights. But the Army says the Rules were changed prior to April 26, 2003 to prohibit the further appropriation of civilian vehicles. To date, the Army’s position is not backed up. Certainly Williams was not told about any such changes. As platoon sergeant, he monitors and keeps up with all policy changes to the Rules of Engagement. Williams even taught classes on these very procedures to recruits back at Fort Campbell and in Kuwait. Brigade Commander Anderson asserts these changes were made, but the evidence indicates they were not made until days after the fact - - after President Bush declared an end to major combat operations on May 1, 2003.
A local, powerful regional leader - Sheik Ahmed Watban Al-Faisal – filed a claim, stating that he owned the Toyota. His son was driving it at the time. Consistent with procedures and sensing a public relations meltdown, the Army reimbursed the Sheik $32,000 in cash for the SUV.
The Army has now charged Williams with armed robbery for taking the vehicle. He faces up to 15 years in prison, a dishonorable discharge, and the lifetime brand of felon, all for doing what he thought was right and what he knew was necessary for his unit and, of course, his country.
What is really going on here? Is Sgt. Williams being used as a scapegoat?
It sure sounds like it to me. If the Army cannot substantiate that the Rules of Engagement were changed prior to Sgt. Williams' actions, then the Army has apparently no basis for the theft accusation. This seems more like an attempt to appease an Iraqi leader with some influence in the region than anything else. The Sheik was compensated for his vehicle, the R.O.G. were followed, so Sgt. Williams did what he knew to be right under the circumstances. I find this case absolutely appalling.
There is a defense fund for Sgt. Williams. To find out how to help, click here.
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