Page 4 of 5   <       >

The Army vs. Spec. Richmond

'Frightening and Chaotic'

Iraq was cold and rainy when the mortar platoon got there in February of 2004. The mud was frozen around Forward Operating Base McHenry, a primitive outpost south of Kirkuk. To fend off sniper attacks, a 10-foot mound of dirt, topped with triple-stand razor wire, surrounded the base. Beyond the wire were outlying roads littered with bombs, especially on the way to Hawija.

"We didn't know anything about the people or their land," said Mittler, the sergeant. "We all had our finger on the trigger. It was frightening and chaotic."

Late one night, according to Army court documents, Edward's squad was briefed on a mission. Word came that high-level insurgents were hiding in the village of Taal Al Jal, possibly with weapons. The plan was for Alpha Company to perform the raid while Edward and the mortar guys set up a security checkpoint outside the mud wall of the village. Sgt. Jeffrey Waruch relayed their orders: Shoot any males fleeing the village, but check with him if possible before firing.

The raid started at daybreak. Edward could hear screaming in Arabic and English, and shotguns blowing the locks from doors. After the sun was up, cow and sheep herders from the village made their way into the fields with their animals.

A call came over the radio to detain all males leaving the village. Edward saw a cow herder in a field about 200 yards away. Waruch would later testify that Edward asked if he could shoot the man; Edward said he asked if he was supposed to shoot the man.

Waruch said no and set out for the cow herder, telling Edward to come along.

The man wore sweat pants, a baggy top and a head scarf. As the two soldiers approached with rifles and plastic flex-cuffs, the Iraqi became angry and began pointing back to the village.

Waruch pantomimed for the man to put his hands in the air. As the soldiers came within three yards of the Iraqi, Waruch told Edward to stand guard with his rifle while he handcuffed the man. Waruch did a quick upper-body search. As he tried to pull the man's wrists down to handcuff him, he resisted, and Waruch ordered Edward to raise his weapon to "high ready."

Edward would later say that Waruch told him to "shoot him if he moves," a statement Waruch would deny making.

Edward was at close range, but he flipped his rifle scope up, training its red dot on the cow herder's head.

The man stopped resisting as Waruch cuffed him, and the sergeant turned to lead him back to the road. As they walked on the uneven field, the man lost his balance and stumbled into Waruch.

A single shot from Edward's M4 rang out. The Iraqi dropped. Waruch squatted down, covering his ears.

<             4        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company