By Frank Whalen
With the U.S. military only now leaving Iraq, after almost a decade, the legacy that remains is not that of a successful mission. Rather, the unnecessary war might be viewed in the context of rogue elements of military personnel honing their skills of corruption and cover-ups, of torture and of murder.
The popular news and commentary website Information Clearing House recently posted a letter written by Private First Class John Needham in 2007, in which he details numerous, eyewitness accounts of war crimes committed by members of the U.S. Army.
In what reads like a horror film, Needham, who was described by his father as a healthy, strapping young man who loved life before he went to war, tells of several members of his unit and their fixation on torture and dismemberment. In one instance, Needham writes that he did “observe [his first sergeant] dismembering the body and parading it while it was tied to the hood of a Humvee around the muhalla [neighborhood— Ed.] while the interpreter blared out warnings in Arabic over the loudspeaker.”
He also writes about an Iraqi male, who was brought in for questioning after being stopped while walking down an alley. Despite his apparent innocence, Needham says the man “was detained and questioned, then, with his hands tied behind his back, [a sergeant] skinned his face.”
The dismemberment appears to be done in order to disguise the crimes and dispose of evidence of murders. However, these atrocities seem to have been common enough that parties involved thought nothing about having numerous pictures taken of the incidents.
Needham mentioned that in addition to the photographs he provided to his superiors to validate his claims, “I also have numerous other photos on a laptop PC that the unit illegally seized from me. I have requested its return, but they have refused.”
Needham describes how some of his fellow soldiers enjoyed the killings. He writes that in one case, “[two officers] were visibly excited about the kill. I saw them pull the Iraqi’s brains out as they placed him in the body bag.”
As a person’s brain has no connection to identifying the victim of a crime, this seems to have been done solely as an obscene pleasure to the murderers. Taking souvenirs and dismembering bodies are characteristic of psychopathic serial killers, as are the torture and killing of animals.
Needham writes that this also occurred, stating that he had “seen and heard [his first sergeant] brag about killing dogs. He kept a running count. At last count, I remember, he was boasting of having killed 80 dogs.”
Needham was definitely affected by his experiences in Iraq, writing that they “have taken a terrible toll on me. I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. I had no way to stop the ugly actions of my unit.”
News website Salon wrote about Needham’s fate in a February 2009 article, stating that weeks after his discharge, he allegedly beat a 19-year-old girl to death in his California condo. The piece goes on to examine the mental health of soldiers returning from Iraq, stating that, “Needham is one of at least 13 current or former Fort Carson soldiers to serve in Iraq and then be convicted, accused or linked to a murder in the past four years.”
A year later, Needham was dead of a drug overdose. Needham’s shocking experiences in Iraq undoubtedly were the catalyst for the downward spiral his life had taken, leaving his friends and family to wonder, if there were legitimate investigations and appropriate justice given when a soldier like Needham stands up and asks for it, he might have found enough peace to make different choices in life after the war.
Frank Whalen has been a radio talk show host for the past 17 years, and worked as a consultant for Maxim magazine.