When Sergeant Jeffery Humphrey and his squad of nine men, part of the 1/26 Infantry of the 1st Infantry Division, were assigned to a Special Forces compound in Samarra, he thought they had drawn a dream duty. "Guarding Special Forces, it was like Christmas," he says. In fact, it was spring, 2004; and although Humphrey was a combat veteran of Kosovo and Iraq, the men to whom he was detailed, the 10th Special Forces Group, were not interested in grunts like him. They would not say what they were doing, and they used code names. They called themselves "the Faith element." But they did not talk religion, which was fine with Humphrey.
An evenhanded Indianan with a precise turn of mind, Humphrey considered himself a no-nonsense soldier. His first duty that Easter Sunday was to make sure the roof watch was in place: a machine gunner, a man in a mortar pit, a soldier with a SAW (an automatic rifle on a bipod), and another with a submachine gun on loan from Special Forces. Together with two Bradley Fighting Vehicles on the ground and snipers on another roof, the watch covered the perimeter of the compound, a former elementary school overlooking the Tigris River.
Early that morning, a unit from the 109th National Guard Infantry dropped off their morning chow. With it came a holiday special-a video of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and a chaplain to sing the film's praises, a gory cinematic sermon for an Easter at war. Humphrey ducked into the chow room to check it out. "It was the part where they're killing Jesus, which is, I guess, pretty much the whole movie. Kind of turned my stomach." He decided he'd rather burn trash.
He was returning from his first run to the garbage pit when the 109th came barreling back. Their five-ton-a supersized armored pickup-was rolling on rims, its tires flapping and spewing greasy black flames. "Came in on two wheels," remembers one of Humphrey's men, a machine gunner. On the ground behind it and in retreat before a furious crowd were more men from the 109th, laying down fire with their M-4s. Humphrey raced toward the five-ton as his roof shooters opened up, their big guns thumping above him. Later, when he climbed into the vehicle, the stink was overwhelming: of iron and gunpowder, blood and bullet casings. He reached down to grab a rifle, and his hand came up wet with brain.
Humphrey had been in Samarra for a month, and until that day his stay had been a quiet respite in one of the world's oldest cities. Not long before, though, there had been a hint of trouble: a briefing in which his squad was warned that any soldier caught desecrating Islamic sites-Samarra is considered a holy city-would fall under "extreme penalty," a category that can include a general court-martial and prison time. "I heard some guys were vandalizing mosques," Humphrey says. "Spray-painting 'em with crosses."
The rest of that Easter was spent under siege. Insurgents held off Bravo Company, which was called in to rescue the men in the compound. Ammunition ran low. A helicopter tried to drop more but missed. As dusk fell, the men prepared four Bradley Fighting Vehicles for a "run and gun" to draw fire away from the compound. Humphrey headed down from the roof to get a briefing. He found his lieutenant, John D. DeGiulio, with a couple of sergeants. They were snickering like schoolboys. They had commissioned the Special Forces interpreter, an Iraqi from Texas, to paint a legend across their Bradley's armor, in giant red Arabic script.
"What's it mean?" asked Humphrey.
"Jesus killed Mohammed," one of the men told him. The soldiers guffawed. JESUS KILLED MOHAMMED was about to cruise into the Iraqi night.
The Bradley, a tracked "tank killer" armed with a cannon and missiles-to most eyes, indistinguishable from a tank itself-rolled out. The Iraqi interpreter took to the roof, bullhorn in hand. The sun was setting. Humphrey heard the keen of the call to prayer, then the crackle of the bullhorn with the interpreter answering-in Arabic, then in English for the troops, insulting the prophet. Humphrey's men loved it. "They were young guys, you know?" says Humphrey . "They were scared." A Special Forces officer stood next to the interpreter-"a big, tall, blond, grinning type," says Humphrey.
"Jesus kill Mohammed!" chanted the interpreter. "Jesus kill Mohammed!"
A head emerged from a window to answer, somebody fired on the roof, and the Special Forces man directed a response from an MK-19 grenade launcher. "Boom," remembers Humphrey. The head and the window and the wall around it disappeared.
"Jesus kill Mohammed!" Another head, another shot. Boom. "Jesus kill Mohammed!" Boom. In the distance, Humphrey heard the static of AK fire and the thud of RPGs. He saw a rolling rattle of light that looked like a firefight on wheels. "Each time I go into combat I get closer to God," DeGiulio would later say.
The Bradley seemed to draw fire from every doorway . There couldn't be that many insurgents in Samarra, Humphrey thought. Was this a city of terrorists? Humphrey heard Lieutenant DeGiulio reporting in from the Bradley's cabin, opening up on all doorways that popped off a round, responding to rifle fire-each Iraqi household is allowed one gun-with 25mm shells powerful enough to smash straight through the front of a house and out the back wall.
Humphrey was stunned. He'd been blown off a tower in Kosovo and seen action in the drug war, but he'd never witnessed a maneuver so fundamentally stupid.
The men on the roof thought otherwise. They thought the lieutenant was a hero, a kamikaze on a suicide mission to bring Iraqis the American news:
عيسى قتل محمدا
JESUS KILLED MOHAMMED.
Excerpted from the May 2009 issue of Harper's Magazine.
Jeff Sharlet is a contributing editor of Harpers Magazine and the author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power and an associate research scholar at the New York University Center for Religion and Media.
This post is part of the thread: - an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.
This was one of the worst things I have read. It is horrible and frightening because I know it to be true: the United States army is a "Christian" army that is on a crusade. The crusade has absolutely nothing to do with their concept or belief is a "God" though. It is a crusade that is not for something but one against something and that something is Islam.
I think that the only thing that can be gained from knowing of the mindset of these people is that it becomes easy to understand how detailed they become when characterizing "extreme-ism" because they are talking about themselves.
that - and really, it's not much different from the crusaders,
particularly the spanish ones, so it's not even anything new. i
went to spain with my christian-turned atheist-turned
agnostic-considering-islam friend, and we went to granada
where you can contrast the carvings of the andalusian king's
palace, saying 'only God is victorious' compared to the
ostentatious statues and murals glorifying the spanish kings,
the forced baptisms and the bloody defeat of granada with
isabella's foot on the head of the granada king in the cathedral,
the reduction of the jews of cordoba from tens of thousands to
zero, immediately converting every single synagogue and
mosque - even schools - to churches and chapels so that not a
single one was left, not even for the few muslims allowed to
remain vs churches allocated for christians when the moors
conquered such that even when expanding mosques on church
land, the victorious and ruling government actually *bought* the
land. and this wasn't even the most upright and exemplary of
muslim empires. it's quite something, to see the contrast with
your own eyes. i can well believe, after seeing the contrast, that
the streets of jerusalem indeed ran knee-deep in blood when
the crusaders took it. they forced the muslims that are allowed
to stay to eat pork and the jews - they were simply killed or
exiled (most went to morocco, whose king said europe's loss,
i.e. of jews, was his gain - according to both moroccans and a
so anyway, this is to be expected and we should not be shocked
or lose our judgement over it.
the irony and sin of it is, jesus and muhammad, peace be upon
them both, were brothers in revelation, each longing to meet
the other as the most esteemed of colleagues. jesus would
Dear paagle there are opinions and facts. To me Islam is the single most beautiful religion. You may not agree with it and that is your choice. You are terribly missing certain points. If non Muslim population disappeared due to some sort of enforcement during Muslim rules, why that same people are ready to die to keep their religion? It is simply the Islam's beauty to convince the innerself that keeps every one on this path - not compromises. To tell you one more fact, I recently handed over a copy of Quran to a non-muslim friend. After reading a bit this friend called me and said "Thank you for opening my eyes".
Now another set of facts. It is the Muslims who are under occupation, persection and exploitation from so many elements. It is their properties that get plundered. It on them ideologies being enforced from outside world, let be it called anything including "democracy". Not the other way around. Ofcourse any other community Muslims also have some bad people, but that is not an excuse to carpet bomb the entire Muslim world.
Look, the actions of this US army unit are sick and vile. If the account is true they deserve nothing less than a trial which brings their crimes to light, followed by execution. If their actions represented the actions of a sizable portion of the US military, wouldn't Iraq be in considerably worse shape? Iraqis have showed a talent for killing American soldiers. If they faced this sort of provocation, wouldn't the insurgency still be going strong? Instead, Iraqis are using their energies to kill eachother far more than to kill Americans.
Note, also, that its a western paper bringing this stuff to light, and that the events described apparently occured in 2004. Isn't it possible that these rogue elements were largely rooted out? Maybe this stuff was wide-spread in 2004, which contributed to the insurgency. Fortunately we in the west look at ourselves openly and bring these things to light. By doing so, we can put a stop to them. Its not perfect, of course, because these guys apparently have not seen justice. That I admit is to our great shame.
But I'll take western self-criticsim and self-improvment over Arab/Islamic my-side-right-or-wrong hyper-honor any day. You'll have no trouble finding western accounts of western wrongs. They fill our newpapers and TV (except, of course, FOX - America's equivalent to al Jazeera). They can even result in major change ("change," why does that have a familiar ring?). The Islamicity web site consistently links to these sites to make its anti-western points.