The high cost
    of scraping the bottom of the barrel

The Mahmudiya rapist/murderer had racked up three convictions by the age of 19. He only got into the Army because of a decision to loosen standards in order to meet recruiting targets. The Army took a long time to rebuild after Vietnam, but it won’t take nearly as long to wreck it again.

Rape and murder, for example.

In order to attract enough cannon-fodder for an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, the Pentagon has allowed recruiting standards to slip. Mahmudiya turns out to be one small part of the cost. Recruiting GI’s with criminal records probably isn’t as bad, in the long run, as eliminating quality control in the officer corps by promoting 97% of your captains to major.

It cost people like Barry McCaffrey and Wesley Clark twenty years of hard work to rebuild the army after the Vietnam debacle. BushCo is busy throwing that away.

How long can they keep campaigning on national security while maintaining such a disastrous performance record on national security?

July 14, 2006

Accused G.I. Was Troubled Long Before Iraq


On the last day of January 2005, Steven D. Green, the former Army private accused of raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and murdering her family, sat in a Texas jail on alcohol-possession charges, an unemployed 19-year-old high school dropout who had just racked up his third misdemeanor conviction.

Days later, Mr. Green enlisted in a soldier-strapped Army, and was later assigned to a star-crossed unit to serve on an especially murderous patch of earth.

He arrived at the very moment that the Army was increasing by nearly half the rate at which it granted what it calls “moral waivers” to potential recruits. The change opened the ranks to more people like Mr. Green, those with minor criminal records and weak educational backgrounds. In Mr. Green’s case, his problems were emerging by junior high school, say people who knew him then.

Mr. Green’s Army waiver allowed a troubled young man into the heart of a war that bore little resemblance to its original declared purposes, but which continued to need thousands of fresh recruits.

Now, there is shame and rage in the Army — from the ranks of the enlisted to the officer corps — over the crimes attributed to Mr. Green, who was discharged in April on psychiatric grounds, and four other soldiers charged with a rape and four killings in March in Mahmudiya, a town about 20 miles south of Baghdad. A sixth soldier was charged with failing to report the matter after learning about it.

Mr. Green’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Thomas Kunk, told his brother in a recent letter that “his worst fears, the nightmare every commander dreams of, has basically come true,’’ the brother, Peter Kunk, said in an interview describing the letter.

“The three or four people have apparently been involved in a situation that reflects so badly on the Army and all the people in these brigades and companies,” Mr. Kunk said.

In early 2005, a few weeks after enlisting, Private Green immersed himself in a baptismal pool in the back of an Army chapel in Fort Benning, Ga., one of hundreds of young recruits who embraced religion as they faced certain violence.

By year’s end, Private Green, then 20, was patrolling streets in one of the most bloodily contested corridors of Iraq, the so-called “triangle of death” south of Baghdad where thousands had died in sectarian violence since 2003. He served with Bravo Company, First Battalion, 502nd Infantry, part of the Army’s 101st Division.

In a photograph released by the Army on Dec. 9, Private Green can be seen laden with gear and aiming a weapon at a lock at an abandoned house. One of his sergeants, Ken Casica, was quoted on the subject of house searches in a news release that accompanied the picture.

The next day, Sergeant Casica and Sgt. Travis Nelson, also of Bravo Company, were shot dead at a checkpoint. Less than two weeks later, two more members of the company were killed by a roadside bomb.

Steven Green lasted only another four months in the Army, but it was a grim, violent and chaotic stretch. Seventeen battalion members were killed, two of them mutilated after being kidnapped; of those killed, eight belonged to Mr. Green’s Bravo Company of about 110 soldiers.

Even the modest quarters taken over the Bravo Company, an abandoned potato warehouse, burned to the ground in an accidental fire, destroying letters, video players, and the small personal tokens the soldiers had slipped into their war gear.

Mr. Kunk, the brother of the commanding officer of the battalion, said that Colonel Kunk had regarded this deployment as the most brutal stretch of his 22 years in the service.

“This is the toughest tour of duty he has ever had,” Mr. Kunk said. “You can tell by his letters. It has taken a terrible toll on him and his men. We’re heartsick about it. There’s been so many deaths, loss of limbs, injuries.”

Born May 2, 1985, Steven Dale Green spent some of his earliest years in Midland, Tex., in the western part of the state. His parents, John Green and Roxanne Simolke, divorced while he was a child, and Mr. Green moved with his mother to Seabrook, southeast of Houston on the Gulf Coast. She married Daniel Carr when Steven was around 8.

Willy Godfrey, a classmate of Mr. Green at Seabrook Intermediate School, remembered when Mr. Green moved into the area for sixth grade in 1997.

“He was always, like, in trouble, doing something in school,” said Mr. Godfrey, 21, an emergency medical technician. “He was always getting into a fight or saying something mean to a teacher. Something weird. It was just out of place. Gradewise and stuff, I don’t know if he did good or bad. But he did not mix well with other people. He was basically mad, or something like that.”

Lisa Godfrey, Mr. Godfrey’s mother, said she had worked with Mr. Green’s mother at Seabrook Classic Cafe and they had spoken often about their boys. His mother had trouble with Steven, Ms. Godfrey, 46, said.

“He was disruptive in his house,” she said. “I don’t know if he killed small cats or anything, but that’s the kind of kid he was. His mom had a lot of issues.”

Another schoolmate, Danielle Mundine, said Mr. Green used drugs at an unusually young age for Seabrook. “I think he did drugs and drink in junior high school,” Ms. Mundine, 19, said. “He did have some friends.”

In 2000, Mr. Green’s mother spent six months in jail on a drunken-driving conviction, records show. Around that time, Mr. Green returned to Midland, where his father still lived. There, he attended Viola M. Coleman High School, which offers courses for students who have difficulty with regular academic programs. He dropped out by 2002, around the 10th grade, but received a graduate equivalency diploma in 2003 from Midland Community College.

Mr. Green was convicted in October 2001 of possession of drug paraphernalia and fined $350. Five months later, he was charged as a minor in possession of tobacco, and was fined $300, according to records in Midland Municipal Court. On Jan. 31, 2005, he was arrested and charged as a minor in possession of alcohol, and again was fined $350. This time, he did not pay the fine, but served jail time.

“He laid off the fine in jail,” Sheriff Gary Painter of Midland County said. Mr. Green did not volunteer to work in the kitchen or at other jobs, which would have shortened his stay, Sheriff Painter said. He served four days.

The jail records hint at some complications in his family life. Mr. Green did not list either parent as a contact, but listed a man in Denver City, Tex., about 80 miles away. Sheriff Painter said he was not permitted to release the name of the contact. But Mr. Green had lived in Denver City with Daniel Carr, his former stepfather, who was estranged from Mr. Green’s mother.

In Denver City, B. J. Carr, the father of Daniel Carr, said Mr. Green had lived there with his son, who works in oil fields in Oklahoma.

The Army has released little information about its review of Mr. Green’s background before he joined the service.

The share of Army recruits who received “moral waivers” for criminal records increased last year and through the first half of 2006 by 15 percent from 10 percent or 11 percent before the war, according to statistics released this week. (According to the Pentagon, the number of waivers in 2001 totaled 7,640. The figure increased to 11,018 in 2005, and for the first six months of this fiscal year totaled 5,636.)

Asked how the Green situation might apply to someone who tried to enlist today, Douglas Smith, a spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky., said it was not possible to apply the Army’s standards to a hypothetical case.

“A waiver is based on the actuality of the person, the totality of their life, the information we have on them — what have been their shortcomings, what have they done in their life to overcome a previous minor mistake,” Mr. Smith said.

On March 13, two months afte he was released from the Midland jail, Mr. Green was one of eight soldiers baptized during a Church of Christ service at Fort Benning.

“You hold that weapon for the first time, a lot of guys are holding weapons for the first time in their lives, and you know this M-16 is meant for engaging the enemy,” said Jason Garber, 19, who was baptized that day but did not complete training. “You wonder, if I do die, where am I going to go?”

A year later almost to the day, a federal criminal complaint says, Mr. Green and the four other soldiers charged in the case drank alcohol, changed into black clothes and then raided the home of a husband and wife and their two daughters.

Mr. Green, the complaint charges, went into a room and killed the parents and the younger daughter. Then, it says, he and a second soldier sexually assaulted the 14-year-old, shot her and tried to burn her body.

Reporting for this article was contributed by Thayer Evans in Seabrook, Tex.; Carolyn Marshall in Fort Campbell, Ky.; and Barbara Novovitch in Denver City, Tex. Alain Delaqueriere contributed research.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

5 thoughts on “The high cost
    of scraping the bottom of the barrel”

  1. Sounds a lot like Robert McNamara's "Project 100,000" during the Vietnam war, in which the military "relaxed" recruiting standards to the point that they were sending soldiers to die who did not have the mental capacity to understand what they were involved in.

  2. This scares me, but what scares me more is the other barrel the military is dipping into, the barrel containing white supremacists, racist skinheads, Aryan Nation types and other similar types of offal.

  3. "How long can they keep campaigning on national security while maintaining such a disastrous performance record on national security?"
    For at least as long as they can continue to campaign as fiscal conservatives.

  4. He never had a fighting chance in a society that put him near the bottom of the barrel with only one way out…carry a rifle and kill for your country.
    He is as much a victim of this war as anyone else.
    Instead of building an America where we prevent or heal wounded people, we continue to punch them out like pots…..and while they die, the Young Repulicans go on their merry way because they got someone else to do the dying and killing for them.

  5. OK, so in retrospect it's obvious that Mr Green was a bad choice–but is there anyone who could see that beforehand. In other words–three misdemeanor charges — one for underage possession of alcohol, one for underage possession of tobacco, one for possession of "drug paraphernalia"–would not make me worried about a potential room-mate.

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