Thursday, September 21, 2006
Safe at home, for now
Less than ten minutes before I met Private First Class Justin Watt, military attorneys privately pulled him aside to remind him not to talk about the case that put his name in headlines. That gesture suggested how important Watt has become to the Army's investigation and prosecution of five soldiers who are suspected in a disturbingly violent crime in Iraq.

The incident happened earlier this year where Watt's company of the 101st Airborne patrolled and manned checkpoints in the Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad. In a place where violent acts are commonplace, this crime was particularly brutal and disturbing. An Iraqi family had been murdered in their own home, the 14 year old daughter was raped, shot in the head and her body was burned. Watt was horrified to learn the killers could have been some of his own brothers in arms.


Reporting the soldiers was not easy to do. Watt, like his fellow soldiers lived and died by an unwritten code of loyalty and trust. His father Rick told me that Justin was so committed to his "brothers" that he turned down a chance at a holiday leave and once refused to come home for his grandfather's funeral. At a military hearing last month Watt said he came forward after hearing stories about what had happened from members of his platoon. He testified 'If you have the power to make something right, you should do it.'


After his testimony Watt reported back to the 101st. He and his parents were concerned about retaliation from within the ranks. Watt had put himself in the uneasy position of wondering if the soldier he was trusting to watch his back might harbor some resentment or feelings of betrayal. Already serving in some of the most arduous conditions in Iraq, this kind of problem could easily get him killed.


My crew and I were just a few feet away Wednesday morning when Watt came home with hundreds of other weary soldiers who have completed their tours in Iraq, to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, and into the arms of his parents.


Tonight on 360 you'll see the love and support Justin is getting from his family, and their relief that he is safe at home, while they wait and wonder what the two years he has left in the army might bring.
Posted By David Mattingly, CNN Correspondent: 5:22 PM ET
  25 Comments
David: Looking forward to your report tonight. I'm sure it's been a rough road for Justin but what's right is right and Justin should be proud that he is setting an example for future soldiers. Unwritten codes need to be broken when it involves such a brutal crime like this one!
Posted By Anonymous Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 6:04 PM ET
Hi David,
There's good, bad, and ugly in every aspect of life..But Justin proved that by letting "your conscience be your guide," and standing firm against the bad and sadly sometimes very ugly, is all that really matters..I'm proud of our hardworking troops and proud of Jason. Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton,Calif. : 6:06 PM ET
Hi David,
This young man should be proud of himself for having the courage to come forward. He's obviously been brought up with an undeniably honest set of values.It could not have been an easy decision for him to make. It's also true that he has set himself up to have to watch over his shoulder at least for his remainder of stay in the military because there are others that will never understand how he could break this so-called 'code of silence'.He sounds very mature and probably couldn't have tolerated this kind of behaviour even if it had been a 'blood brother'. Stay safe Justin and God Bless.
Posted By Anonymous Bev Whitby Ontario Canada. : 6:25 PM ET
Hi David-
I am very proud that we as Americans have gallant soldiers like Justin Watt. I can only hope and pray that soldiers like those who comitted this gruesome crime are in the minority. Watt should be commended for reporting his fellow soldiers. Brotherhood can only go so far.It's nice to hear that Watt is safe at home although it is disturbing to think that because of his chilvary, his life could have been in danger from friendly fire in Iraq. Justin Watt is a role model for other soldiers. To have the power and to do the right thing is not always easy. I wish him the very best.
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 7:37 PM ET
Private watts should be commended, he took a brave and courageous step at the risk of his own life and as an Arab and Muslim it helps me beleive that not the whole American military is evil. But I also find it quite strange that major news stations like CNN seem to want to look on the bright side of an atrocity that does not have one. The same was done with Abu Graib. You glorified the man who came forth but had no room to cover the lives of the people they ruined. I understand that AC 360 is an american show and therefore will want to portray an american view but really if the people that the American military cruelly tortures are shown as just a statistic and thier crimes depicted as "incidents" like was done in this blog it just spurs on the rest of the world to beleive that unless its american blood it does not matter. This is one of the best shows on American media and i hope you look into a more unbiased perspective. Thankyou.
Posted By Anonymous Sarah Al-Rukhais, Kuwait : 1:14 AM ET
Justin's parents obviously did a great job instilling a moral sense of what is the right thing to do. A uniform and the majority of those who wear it shouldn't be discraced by those few {or more?} cowardly thugs who would hide behind it to commit heinous crimes against ANY innocent human being. Thank you Justin.
Posted By Anonymous kurt k.,Wilkes Barre Pa. : 2:52 AM ET
Watt is a very courageous young hero. We need more men and women just like him! People who cover for others who commit terrible criminal acts should be viewed as guilty as the person who committed it!
Posted By Anonymous Nicki, Calgary, Alberta : 10:19 AM ET
What an amazing young man who stood up for the values and morals that we as American citizens are suppose to have. It saddens me that he had to worry about his safety just for doing the right thing. Have we as Americans become what we say we fight against? Have we become the terrorist in a land which our government claims to be democracing? This is really, really sad.
Posted By Anonymous Michele, New Orleans, LA : 10:25 AM ET
As if Justin hasn't put himself in harms way fighting for his country in Iraq, now he'll have to do the same back home. I admire him for sticking to his values, but being a whistleblower in the Military has got to be a lifelong decision. I'm afraid he will have to be watching over his shoulder for a long time to come. He is certainly a brave young man who has chosen good over evil and his parents SHOULD be proud.
Posted By Anonymous Lisa Scarboro, Ontario CANADA : 10:45 AM ET
I strongly believe that Justin Watt did the right thing by reporting his fellow soldiers or friends, as they are sometimes called. His courage is refreshing when it involves integrity and developing his character. His ability to continue in the service for another 2 years is a concern for me though. The uncertainty of his safety is the major concern when others around you know that you were the source of information that "leaked" or told on your comrades. I am proud of his decision to do what he did for that family.
Posted By Anonymous Cara, Houston, TX : 10:56 AM ET
I am so proud of private 1st class Justin Watt for coming forward and doing THE RIGHT THING. It had to have been difficult to make that decision, but not making it could have haunted him forever. Hold your head up high Justin Watt!
Posted By Anonymous Tania Cavanaugh - Weatherford, Texas : 11:06 AM ET
Congratulations to Justin for displaying courage and conviction in a situation that could have endangered his own life. More people need to follow his example and live their lives trying to help people, not hurting them.
Posted By Anonymous Ryan, Phoenix AZ : 11:29 AM ET
I was a platoon leader in the Army and deployed to Iraq in 2005. This soldier should be commended for coming forward. He, perhaps more so than his officers, took on the responsibility of reporting this to the proper authorities despite the potential backlash against him. No where in their career is a soldier trained that it is okay to commit crimes of this type, in fact, they are instructed to report any violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that they observe. In the eyes of the UCMJ, to fail to report the events is equivalent to conducting them. This soldier placed his loyalty to the Army's mission, and by extension his fellow soldiers, over his personal loyalty to members of his unit who may have betrayed his trust by committing these acts. He is a textbook illustration of the Army Values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless-Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage. If I was still in the Army, I'd want this soldier in my company.
Posted By Anonymous Danny Eakins, Columbus OH : 1:00 PM ET
I think it takes a great deal of courage to do what he did in come forward. My husband is retired military and his view is that their job is to uphold the innocent. That is all that he is and was doing so he should stand tall and be proud, as should his parents. I feel strongly that his brothers will take the same view.
Posted By Anonymous LJ, Mancehster, TN : 1:12 PM ET
This young man has shown many, that he has stood up for the highest moral value there is. That is truth. When the time comes for him to return home to our Heavenly Father, he will stand before our maker, knowing that he did what he should have and not what this world may have expected him to. It is not this world's "laws" that have to be followed, but God's law. If our laws are just and right, they need to be followed, but if they go against God's laws, one has to make a choice of who is more important. Earthly man made laws and expectations or God's laws and expectations. I salute you young man. Thank you for your sacrafice and thanks to all men and women of the armed forces. Your sacrafice is not in vain. God Bless & PEACE!
Posted By Anonymous John, Waukesha, WI : 1:36 PM ET
You have to wonder if the military is serious about investigating war crimes by out troops. Soldiers like Watt who testify about such crimes should not have to report back to a division where they may be in danger. I guess the thinking is that if they don't get testimony, the crime could not have happened?

War now isn't usually fought with uniformed enemy troops. That sometimes puts our soldiers in very difficult positions. Yet we must NOT loose our ability to uphold our fundamental values. Otherwise, we won't be any different from terrorists.
Posted By Anonymous Elise, Dallas, TX : 2:09 PM ET
I can not help but think how difficult it was for this young soldier to do the right thing....i truly believe that his comrades in arm will see this as an honorable thing and those allegedly involved were nothing more than cowards and criminals and murders, i am a viet nam era vet as were my two brothers and sister...you really are my hero....thanks
Posted By Anonymous al lopez - sacramento, ca : 2:39 PM ET
Praise to him. Raping a 14 year old girl is something that should never be tolerated.

To any American soldiers in Iraq that might be reading this: Watt did nothing wrong, and if you think otherwise, shame on you. Stop representing my country. No American should protect a rapist through inaction. We are better than that.
Posted By Anonymous Matt, Randolph, NJ : 3:38 PM ET
Watt did the right thing ... and sometimes the rigt thing can be pretty damn difficult. If he feels any guilt about reporting his "brothers," they should feel just as guilty about putting his consience in position where he had to make such a harrowing decision. If the immediate soldiers are his brothers, then the army is his family, and upholding the ideals of greater good is a brave thing to do.
Posted By Anonymous Jack Hernandez, Columbia MD : 4:55 PM ET
This young man is a soldier. He was sent to a hell on earth where everyone is looking to kill him and his fellow soldiers. He and other like him are frightened and angry. He probably feels a bit like road kill right now. The pro-war Bush crowd are using him as an excuse for their failure and the anti-war twits are holding him up as a war criminal. No matter what anyone says, this young man was not trained as a policeman. He was trained and equipped to kill the enemy and as far as I can see he and the other soldiers there are in danger from every Arab they encounter. If you want to blame someone, blame the politicians who sent him there, and the ones who keep him and young men like him there.
Posted By Anonymous Mike Brooks, Eugene, OR : 6:34 PM ET
The soldier did the right thing. Even though they don't see the right thing during basic training, their Drill Sergeants still instill in their heads to do the right thing.

No matter how much anyone in uniform does not ever think that they could "snitch" on their buddies, you have to do the right thing. We all must remember that we are serving God and country while in uniform.

To tell the truth is part of that commitment to God and country.

If there is any retalliation, then those armed forces personnel and their leadership responsible for that retalliation have degraded the uniform.

God Bless America!
Posted By Anonymous T. Suarez, SSG, (Ret),USAR, Southern California : 7:31 PM ET
Anderson,

I can very well see how the rest of the world has turned against us.

We've started a "stupid war" in Iraq and admitted to what everyone already knew, we're allowing and condoning the "tough" treatment of prisoners , could another adjective be the word "torture".

Maybe we can get a fresh start in the eyes of the world when a certain person retires to Texas.
Posted By Anonymous Billy J. Bell, Hartselle, Al : 7:33 PM ET
So very happy that Justin made it home from Iraq. I believe Justin did the right thing in being honest and reporting the incident. However, as much as I do not want to admit it, I can actually see how this incident came about. Our soldiers are fighting an illegal war to begin with, they have had to become street fighters not knowing who to trust or where the next ambush is coming from. The psychological stress must be beyond comprehension. The blame should be laid at President Bush's feet, as he is the one who called for this invasion of Iraq without legal or moral reasons. Mr. Bush took the war out of Afghan, where it truly belonged, and invaded a country which did not even have WMD. In the meantime, Osma, the real villian, remains at large. Did not mean to regress just could not help myself. I think we need to look at the complete picture. Justin, as I said above....WELCOME HOME AND YOU DID THE RIGHT THING!
Posted By Anonymous Moe, Liverpool, NY : 7:45 PM ET
I never get tired of reading the lefts' version of who is to blame when young men and women do terrible things in the military. Bush is not to blame, Rumsfeldt is not to blame; the soldiers who perpetrated this terrible atrocity are to blame.

Beyond this old and rusty left argument this young soldier has done something that many older, and supposedly wiser, would not have- he told the truth.

As a retired Marine Corp. Col. I can tell you that this is unfortunatly a mirror of modern society; the decay of our moral center. This type of problem has always reared it's ugly head, but never so frequently as today. The tearing down of the nuclear family, morals, and christian beliefs have lead us to this point.

This young man is to be commended, promoted, and released from his obligations due to the possibility of retalliation by his brothers in arms. Of course, that is after his story is confirmed as truth. A part of me hopes that it is just a fabrication, but I know it will be shown to be factual. Sigh, what is this world coming to.

Welcome home, Pvt. Watts. Job well done.
Posted By Anonymous M. Fouts, Col.(retired) Lansing, MI : 6:27 AM ET
Well done to Justin for sticking to his fundamental values. What I would hope to see is CNN can provide more coverage on the trail of the alleged soldiers (I would like to call them outright "rapist" but hey, innocent until proven guilty). There has been large doubts whether the military court will take the case seriously since it relates directly to its image. It is the media's job to press for an open and fair trial that brings criminals to justice. Otherwise, our nation is not very different from Iraq under the dictatorship of Saddam.
Posted By Anonymous George Tang, Champaign IL : 5:18 PM ET
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