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LITERARY REVIEW Dec 2010 / Jan 2011
THE STATE WE’RE IN
suspected) as having a psychopathic personality disorder and discharged from the army. He had grown up as the avowedly unwanted child of a neglectful single mother who left him, for much of his childhood, in the care of his thuggish older brother. Although intelligent and surprisingly well-read, he was a white supremacist misanthrope, with a juvenile criminal record that required the army to give him a ‘moral waiver’ in order to join. Privates Cortez, Spielman and Barker, the other three directly involved, came from apparently similarly dysfunctional backgrounds.
The immediate cause of the crime seems to have been the fact that these four individuals were left together practically unsupervised at an isolated outpost where they had access to both alcohol and drugs, bought from members of the Iraqi Army stationed nearby, as well as considerable firepower. When it took place, they were drunk on Iraqi whisky, and bored and strung out by lengthy guard duties. They considered killing a carload of Iraqis at their checkpoint to relieve their boredom but decided instead that rape would be more diverting. Apart from the fact that these were soldiers on duty in Iraq, it is difficult to see how this differs from the kind of mindless, intoxicated violence that takes place with all too monotonous regularity in towns and cities across the US, Britain and the rest of the developed world.
This is where Freder ick’s book leaves me with an uneasy feeling. By describing in detail 1/502’s tour prior to the crime, he seems to be suggesting that this abhorrent event was some kind of culmination: a violent, murderous reaction to unbearable stress. But if this was the case why has this kind of cr ime not been much more widespread in Iraq and Afghanistan? The reality seems to have been that dire leadership led to a small group of unstable individuals being put in a situation where they could wind each other up to commit an appalling atrocity without interference. The fact that this took place during the occupation of Iraq forms part of the circumstances but doesn’t really ‘explain’ the crime. Nevertheless, this is a powerful and compelling read. From the point of view of a military professional, the picture Frederick paints of 1/502 – based on trial testimony and interviews – is amazing. Distrust, animosity and incompetence held sway: no wonder Green, Barker, Cortez and Spielman thought they would be able to get away with murder. The fact that they were caught was due to the action of a whistle-blower, a soldier with a moral compass who nevertheless seems to have been treated almost as a pariah by the battalion hierarchy as they tried to avoid any kind of responsibility. Green – who actually shot all the al Janabis as well as taking his turn raping Abeer – is now serving five consecutive hundred-year sentences and will never be released; the others are serving ninety-year sentences and will eventually be eligible for parole. Black Hearts is highly recommended, but you will need a strong stomach. To order this book at £10.39, see LR bookshop opposite