By John L. Work
Former U.S. Army Master Sergeant John Hatley is now serving a forty year sentence in Leavenworth prison. He was convicted by a 2009 Court Martial of murdering four Iraqi insurgent arrestees in Baghdad following a 2007 ambush and firefight, and dumping the bodies into a Baghdad canal. Two other Sergeants with the Alpha Company 1-18 1st Infantry were also convicted and sent to prison.
Hatley’s wife, Kim Hatley, is leading a crusade to win clemency for her husband. I recently spoke with her by telephone. A veteran of six years as an Intel-analyst and Crypto-analyst with the U.S. Army 18th Airborne Corps, Mrs. Hatley has a nineteen-year-old son in the United States Marine Corps in Iraq. She related some details of events that led up to the firefight, the shootings and the investigation that sent her husband to prison:
John Hatley was a highly decorated combat veteran of nineteen years and six months military service. He was deployed in Bosnia, Kosovo, Panama, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Operation Desert Storm and three tours of duty in Iraq. The soldiers of Alpha Company 1-18 1st Army Infantry knew him to be the first into a hot spot and the last to come out. Mrs. Hatley says that her husband was a legend in Alpha Company and treated the soldiers under his command as though they were family.
During daily 2007 patrol operations in the West Rasheed area of Baghdad, Hatley’s soldiers often found themselves under enemy fire. The post-Hussein sectarian “insurgency” was well under way. Hatley’s soldiers killed some of the attackers and captured many others. Over the length of the insurgency, snipers and roadside bombs (IEDs) killed or crippled thousands of Americans.
As the war dragged on, tens of thousands of jihadists who were taken prisoner during or after fire-fights in Baghdad went to the Detention Holding Area Annex (DHAA), which is military terminology for a jail. Astonishingly, the DHAA personnel released nearly all of them shortly after their arrests, for “lack of sufficient evidence to detain.” Most of the prisoners were released. The newly-freed insurgents immediately returned to the streets to resume killing and maiming American soldiers. This insanity became known as the Catch and Release Program.
Adding to the stress of war, Hatley and his soldiers collected the scores of dead bodies that were regularly dumped onto Baghdad streets by terrorists. Most of the dead were non-combatant civilians who had been tortured and mutilated prior to their executions.
Then, on February 27, 2007, an insurgent sniper killed Staff Sergeant Karl Soto-Pinedo, who was like a beloved son to Hatley. Mrs. Hatley told me that her husband was grief-stricken to the point of dysfunction by Soto-Pinedo’s death. On March 17, Spc. Mario Guerrero was killed by a road-side bomb explosion. All the same, the patrols went on ceaselessly, from 4:00 a.m. to 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. – every day. For months on end Hatley and his soldiers fought the war on three or four hours of sleep per night.
On a particular April day in 2007, Hatley’s unit once again came under fire. Four insurgents ran from a house where they hid during the fire-fight and the Americans soon captured them. U.S. troops found small arms, sniper rifles and ammunition within that house. All of the captured insurgents field-tested “positive” for gunshot residue on their hands.
Hatley radioed the DHAA that he was en-route with the four detainees. The DHAA refused to receive them, citing a “lack of sufficient evidence to hold.” Hatley was ordered to release these terrorists who had tried to kill American soldiers. Now, as the alleged story that came out in court goes, he discussed the DHAA release order with two of his subordinates, Sgt. Michael Leahy and Sgt. Joseph Mayo. The Sergeants decided they had just about had their fill of Catch and Release, and that these four insurgents were not going free to return to kill and maim Americans. They subsequently drove the four terrorists to a nearby canal, fired one shot each into the backs of their heads, and dumped the dead bodies into the water. Sgt. Jesse Cunningham, seated inside their parked vehicle, apparently watched all of it in the rear-view mirror. The bodies, however, were never found. No local residents reported anyone missing.
By 2009, the Hatleys were stationed in Germany. Sgt. Jesse Cunningham got himself into a jam with the Army for assaulting another non-commissioned officer and for falling asleep at his post – both serious offenses if proven. Under investigation, Cunningham talked to a JAG lawyer and decided to trade what he knew about the 2007 Baghdad shootings to get himself off the hook. He became “the snitch.”
Using Cunningham’s statement, the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) extracted confessions from both Leahy and Mayo. Hatley refused to admit having done anything wrong. The military trial was in Bilseck, Germany, from April 13 through 16, 2009.
Cunningham, Leahy and Mayo all took the witness stand against their former First Sergeant. Mrs. Hatley, who was present for the entire trial, told me that Leahy and Mayo, who had already been convicted, looked to be in great distress on the stand during testimony. Both received bad conduct discharges and prison time. Hatley received a dishonorable discharge to go along with his life sentence. Members of the press openly wept when the sentence was handed down.
Mrs. Hatley now spends endless hours on the internet and the phone, mustering support for her husband’s release. She sounds optimistic, despite the terrible situation. She says that even in prison her husband has received meritorious staff reports, once for saving a choking prisoner’s life by administering the Heimlich maneuver.
The endless conflict goes on. Soldiers and Marines deal with Rules of Engagement (ROE) that tie their hands and prolong the national agony of our overseas involvement in the eternal war that Islam declared against infidels nearly fourteen-hundred years ago.
Many officers in the military’s upper echelons remain willfully ignorant of Islamic doctrine and oblivious to its dynamics in the war. They write the crippling ROE and the Catch-and-Release policies that have caused the deaths of innumerable American soldiers and Marines — and they sit comfortably behind their desks at the Pentagon. In the meantime, men like John Hatley sit in prison.
John L. Work is a contributor to NewsReal Blog. He is a retired Colorado Law Enforcement Officer and a free-lance writer.