That’s a mind-boggling but logical implication of an amazing anecdote in a Washington Post commentary today written by John Rogers, a captain in the U.S. Army who served in Iraq from June 2006 to September 2007.
Rogers’s piece is an explanation of why he plans to leave the army. One of his reasons is that his “experience with war has left [him] feeling angry, frustrated and mismanaged.” To illustrate this point, he describes the following incident (which he says was not the only one) in which he was “blocked in doing my job in Iraq.”
My mission as a platoon leader was to clean up police corruption and reintegrate the Iraqi police into the security structure of Ghazaliyah, a district in western Baghdad. Over time, my platoon built a relationship of trust with Iraqi policemen, who gave us leads on insurgents. On one patrol, we detained a Sunni whom our battalion’s intelligence officer confirmed as a genuine criminal. This man had threatened local residents, preventing them from participating in a clinic we had restarted.
A search of his home yielded illegal weapons, sniper bullets, insurgent propaganda, gobs of money and lists of Iraqi political and military officials’ addresses. When we learned that he was the leading Sunni insurgent in Ghazaliyah, our platoon felt like world-beaters. Morale surged. Finding this man validated counterinsurgency theory — empowering indigenous forces, patiently letting them take the lead, and collecting intelligence through local and national networks that know the “human terrain” better than foreign armies. It taught my men to be patient with it, and gave them pride.
Moreover, a change came over our counterparts in the Iraqi police. You could see their hope awakening. They began to feel safe in giving us the names of corrupt policemen and police car numbers. We secretly built a case against their leader (which this very newspaper inadvertently exposed in late 2006 when it published the full name of my Iraqi confidante, creating even more stress for my troops.)
So, good grab, right? Wrong. We later had to release the detainee. Somehow the evidence to hold him was lacking — even though he had discussed his role in sectarian violence under questioning by our intelligence officers. At the detention facility, I learned that most of the evidence we had collected against him had never been analyzed. I was told that a high-ranking official (I don’t know whether it was a diplomat or someone from the CIA or the Army) had called the facility, incredulous that the man was being detained. Later, I found out that our detainee was politically well-connected, which supposedly played a role in his release. But we lost credibility with the Iraqi police. And we were ticked off at the waste of our time and our unnecessary exposure to danger.
It’s possible that there was some great rationale for releasing this man. But my men and I will never know why he was really let go. We knew that he was contributing to sectarian violence. Could someone at least tell my men that everything they did counted for something? What did I risk their lives for?
Incredible. A man that Capt. Rogers knew was contributing to sectarian violence was released from detention, apparently on the orders of a high-ranking U.S. official.
The Iraqi people believe that the sectarian violence in their country is instigated exclusively by outside forces. It looks like they may be right.