A decorated Australian soldier was embroiled in a secret war- crimes investigation after two former high ranking US military officials accused him of ordering the killing of unarmed men during the invasion of Iraq.
Mr Day said he was cleared of the allegations and supplied a rebuttal of them which claims his accusers, two former US Marines officers, had gone for a swim in a river, which compromised his reconnaissance position.
The incident gives an insight into the life-or-death decisions commanders were required to make as they tried to differentiate between enemy fighters and civilians during the controversial war.
Retired former major-general Ray Smith and a former assistant secretary of defence for international security affairs, Francis ”Bing” West, alleged they witnessed two unarmed Iraqi men gunned down on Mr Day’s orders on a riverbank north-east of Baghdad on April 5, 2003.
The two former soldiers, highly experienced combat veterans who had seen extensive service in Vietnam, had been embedded with the marines to write a book about the invasion.
They alleged they witnessed a light armoured vehicle under Mr Day’s command open fire with a cannon, without warning, on two unarmed Iraqi men who had driven up in a water tanker and then walked to the banks of the Diyala River.
Smith and West detailed the allegations in their book The March Up, Taking Baghdad with the 1st Marine Division but they did not name Mr Day, referring to him only as a foreign exchange officer.
Smith and West wrote that Smith confronted Mr Day after the shooting and had a heated exchange that led to Smith’s saying that the incident had been a ”cold-blooded killing”.
Smith then complained about the incident to a Marine commander who promised to investigate, the book says.
Mr Day claims the Iraqis were armed but Smith and West wrote that no one had physically checked to see if they were carrying weapons. The bodies were gone when US troops returned later.
Their allegations led to a secret US Marines investigation by a judge advocate into why the Iraqis were shot.
The investigation found the allegations were unproved and
Mr Day was later decorated for his service. Mr Day, 46, said in a statement: ”This incident was the subject of a thorough investigation and I was cleared of any unlawful acts or misconduct.”
Mr Day, who has appeared on several television programs speaking about his battles with post-traumatic stress disorder, also gave Fairfax a ”rebuttal” he says was written by his commanding officer, whom he declined to name.
The rebuttal alleges that Smith and West had compromised Mr Day’s position by bathing in the middle of a battle and that the Iraqis were armed and suspected of coming to the river to capture the authors.
It also states that the accusation led to a mid-ranking commander and Mr Day being ”hesitant in combat for the next week” and that video stills of the dead men showed a weapon beside one of the bodies.
Smith and West said they stood by what was written.
Smith said it had come down to his word against others’ although he acknowledged Mr Day might have been better able to observe if the Iraqis were armed as the Australian would have had a sighting device in the armoured vehicle.
West said: ”I didn’t see any weapon. We wrote what we saw. We were really angry about it.”
West said he had seen the Iraqis get out of a water tanker and walk to the water. One appeared frightened but his companion had persuaded him to keep walking.
”Both (Iraqi men) were shot by a .25 [cannon] and then the second [shot hit] right in the chest and the stomach and they just collapsed,” West said.
”They were two guys against five LAVs [light armoured vehicles]. If someone asked me would I have shot them, I would not [have]”.
A spokesman this week confirmed the Australian Defence Force did not carry out its own investigation into the matter.
But the spokesman said the then chief of army Peter Leahy had been informed of the US Marines investigation which had found the engagement was reasonable and that the allegations were unfounded.
”On the basis of his consideration of the USMC investigation in 2005, the then chief of army concluded that [Warrant Officer 2nd class] Day had acted correctly and the allegations were unfounded.”
A spokesman for the Marine Corps told Fairfax Media to make a freedom-of-information request if more information was sought.Source: Sydney Morning Herald – Digger accused over Iraqi deaths
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