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Documenting an Army platoon's 'descent into madness'

By Emily Ruane, VBS.TV and Jim Frederick, Time Executive Editor
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Author details platoon pushed to limit
  • Jim Frederick tells story of U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division in Iraq
  • Group of soldiers deployed to infamous "triangle of death" in 2005
  • Disciplinary, psychological deterioration led to "most heinous" war crime

Editor's note: The staff at has been intrigued by the journalism of VICE, an independent media company and website based in Brooklyn, New York. VBS.TV is Vice's broadband television network. The reports, which are produced solely by VICE, reflect a transparent approach to journalism, where viewers are taken along on every step of the reporting process. We believe this unique reporting approach is worthy of sharing with our readers. Viewer discretion advised.

Brooklyn, New York (VBS.TV) -- In his appearances on VBS.TV, correspondent Ben Anderson has taken us to some dangerous and far-flung places -- conflict-ridden sites imbued with human suffering and the scars of injustice.

Whether he's touring former slave forts in Senegal with legendary boxer David Haye, dodging insurgent bullets in Afghanistan or exposing the network of oppressed immigrants that helped build Dubai, Ben's willingness to venture into the unexplored pockets of the globe always make for fascinating reporting.

It was a quite a change for us, then, when Ben took the subway to Brooklyn and pulled up a comfy chair with Time Executive Editor and Managing Editor Jim Frederick, himself an intrepid reporter and the author of "Black Hearts: One Platoon's Descent Into Madness in Iraq's Triangle of Death."

Called "harrowing," "a testament to a misconceived war," and as Ben so aptly puts it in quoting the New York Times, "a mix between 'In Cold Blood,' 'Black Hawk Down,' with a bit of 'Apocalypse Now'," the book attempts to explain how the United States' overthrow of Saddam Hussein, an event which the U.S. government promised would bring so much hope for the future of Iraq, eventually led to the unprovoked murder of four of the nation's innocent citizens at the hands of three U.S. soldiers.

See the rest of VBS Meets Jim Frederick at VBS.TV

Black Hearts tells the story of a unit of the Army's 101st Airborne division deployed to Iraq's "triangle of death" in 2005. Hastily assembled, the soldiers found themselves in a civil war zone infested with IEDs. Their outposts were at a physical and psychological remove from the Green Zone, where U. S. troops enjoyed homey comforts such as video games and well-stocked mess halls.

With their resources already stretched to capacity and near-daily attacks from Sunni insurgents thinning their ranks at an alarming rate, the soldiers dealt with their stress in a variety of ways.

Some took to not sleeping; others drank and did drugs. Many developed a hatred of Iraqi civilians -- and on March 12, 2006, three 101st Airborne soldiers snuck into an Iraqi home, raped a 14-year-old girl, incinerated her body, and murdered her mother, father and 6-year old sister.