Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Yes, some troops stole money in Iraq. What’s Trump’s point?

A lot of bad things happened. It was bad war. That said, Trump isn’t making things any better.

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally aboard the USS Iowa on September 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. Donald Trump is campaigning in Los Angeles a day ahead of the CNN GOP debate that will be broadcast from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally aboard the USS Iowa on September 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. Donald Trump is campaigning in Los Angeles a day ahead of the CNN GOP debate that will be broadcast from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally aboard the USS Iowa on September 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. Donald Trump is campaigning in Los Angeles a day ahead of the CNN GOP debate that will be broadcast from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Bottom line: Trump is right, some soldiers did steal money in Iraq. Not only from baskets of cash for compensation, but from Iraqis carrying their own cash.

I wrote some about this in my book, Fiasco:
Nine soldiers from a howitzer platoon in the 3rd ACR’s 2nd Squadron, who were assigned to checkpoint duty in western Iraq, allegedly stole thousands of dollars from Iraqis, but they weren’t prosecuted because investigators couldn’t locate the alleged victims, according to an internal Army document obtained by the ACLU. One private confessed that "the robberies occurred on nearly every TCP [traffic control point] he participated in," Army investigators reported. Another soldiers said the criminal acts were common knowledge in the platoon.
Why wasn’t more attention paid to this? In part because the amount of cash was peanuts compared to the monthly multi-billion dollar cost of the war. At point one, if I remember correctly, I calculated the war was costing us about $200,000 a minute. Also, the percentage of soldiers who did these things was, I believe, tiny.

But more, the robberies paled in comparison to other bad things that happened. That’s not just Abu Ghraib, it’s also Haditha, and the Black Hearts killings, in which some soldiers raped a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and then burned her body and murdered her family. I remember one Iraqi explaining that he wasn’t shocked by the Haditha massacre because, by that point, everyone was used to 25 or so Iraqis dying a day.

Bottom line: Trump is right, some soldiers did steal money in Iraq. Not only from baskets of cash for compensation, but from Iraqis carrying their own cash.

I wrote some about this in my book, Fiasco:

Nine soldiers from a howitzer platoon in the 3rd ACR’s 2nd Squadron, who were assigned to checkpoint duty in western Iraq, allegedly stole thousands of dollars from Iraqis, but they weren’t prosecuted because investigators couldn’t locate the alleged victims, according to an internal Army document obtained by the ACLU. One private confessed that “the robberies occurred on nearly every TCP [traffic control point] he participated in,” Army investigators reported. Another soldiers said the criminal acts were common knowledge in the platoon.

Why wasn’t more attention paid to this? In part because the amount of cash was peanuts compared to the monthly multi-billion dollar cost of the war. At point one, if I remember correctly, I calculated the war was costing us about $200,000 a minute. Also, the percentage of soldiers who did these things was, I believe, tiny.

But more, the robberies paled in comparison to other bad things that happened. That’s not just Abu Ghraib, it’s also Haditha, and the Black Hearts killings, in which some soldiers raped a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and then burned her body and murdered her family. I remember one Iraqi explaining that he wasn’t shocked by the Haditha massacre because, by that point, everyone was used to 25 or so Iraqis dying a day.

Nor did the Army pay much attention. Two Iraqi detainees were thrown into the Tigris by Army soldiers, and one presumably drowned there. The soldiers’ battalion commander, Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman, was found to have lied to investigators — which would seem to me to constitute both a violation of military rules and abetting a felony — yet was left in command of his unit for another year, and then allowed to retire quietly.

A lot of bad things happened. It was bad war. That said, Trump isn’t making things any better.

Photo credit: JUSTIN SULLIVAN/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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