Monday, February 12, 2007
Marine discusses the killing of an innocent Iraqi

Cpl. Trent Thomas told a judge he believes he acted with lawful authority.

Like most people, I was horrified and disappointed when I heard that U.S. troops had been accused of murdering innocent Iraqis in Haditha and Hamdania.

But as a journalist I wanted to know more. I wanted to know what would drive soldiers to commit these types of acts. I wanted to know more about the psychological conditions under which they operated.

I found Cpl. Trent Thomas' story particularly intriguing. Thomas grew up in a rough neighborhood in East St. Louis and by all accounts is a man who beat the odds. He didn't turn to drugs or violence; instead, he says he turned to his faith and church and family. Joining the Marines was something he always wanted to do.

On April 26th of last year, Thomas and other members of his squad were searching for an insurgent in Hamdania, Iraq. Frustrated at being unable to find him, they went to his next door neighbor's home, 52-yeard Hashim Ibrahim Awad, lured him out his house, then shot and killed him on the street. But Awad, the father of 11 children, was not an insurgent.

The squad then tried to cover up Awad's murder to make it look like he was an insurgent planting a bomb.

Thomas initially pleaded guilty to taking part in the murder, admitting he shot Awad several times. When I met with Thomas at Camp Pendleton last Tuesday, he was in custody, awaiting sentencing. We talked about why a man who calls himself a Christian and a good Marine would murder. (Hear Cpl. Thomas' take on how war dehumanizes people)

After talking to Thomas for just a few minutes, I could see how conflicted he was. Thomas said he was sorry for what he had done to Awad. But I still got the sense that his entire experience in Iraq hadn't really sunk in.

Thomas served three tours in Iraq. He had seen his best friend killed. He told me he would wake up each day and never know if he would survive to see the next one. He said battle fatigue and a general sense of frustration at not being able to stop insurgents played a role in Awad's killing.

I asked Thomas if he was following orders the day his squad killed Awad. He wouldn't directly answer and appeared to be holding something back.

After the interview I had a private conversation with Thomas' attorney. At the time, it was off the record. Following the talk with the attorney, I knew Thomas felt he was following orders that day.

One day after our interview, Thomas changed his plea to "not guilty." His lawyer then said publicly that Thomas withdrew the guilty plea because he believed he was doing what he was told to do. The case, which had been in the sentencing phase, will now start over.

Regardless of how the legal case proceeds from here, Thomas still has to come to terms with being a Christian, a Marine, and a man who has killed.
Posted By Jason Carroll, CNN Correspondent: 4:43 PM ET
  43 Comments
It's interesting how "Christians" are supposed to be the only moral religious people in the world. Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc., of course, all embrace and condone killings. I think it's ridiculous that these Christians have an issue with their military duty when it's the "Christian" president who sent them overseas. It's time for religious people of all faiths to stand together and end the Iraq invasion.
Posted By Anonymous Julie, Boise, Idaho : 5:27 PM ET
Thomas is still a child and used a child's jdgement. No genuine disciple of Jesus Christ would do this - this excludes the Evangelical Right who would proclaim the Name but do the opposite.

Sincerely,
Human
Posted By Anonymous Human, Seattle, WA : 5:45 PM ET
The rank and file of the military are doing the dirty work for the real savages in this brutal venture in Iraq. They are effectively brain washed to the point of having their morals corrupted for the sake of a poisonous administration's policy. There is a really good chance that Thomas had his mind twisted into following the brutal orders that were in play at the time. Anderson Cooper needs to dig deeper into this case and speak with a louder voice on his findings.
Posted By Anonymous Joan Bentley Teaneck, NJ : 5:46 PM ET
Jason,

The scary thing to me is that Iraq vets are, and will hopefully soon be in greater numbers, back in the mainstream of life carrying all this stuff with them. Talk about baggage. At a retreat I once witnessed a friend break down and cry and ask God's forgiveness for all the things he had done in Viet Nam. I never asked him what he had done but I could imagine. I think atrocities like this have occurred in every war (which is one reason why war should be a last and not first resort) but CNN or the BBC was not there on the streets of Berlin or Rome with a video camera and microphone to record the event and send the news half way across the world minutes later. May God have mercy on this poor kid and everyone like him who crosses the line under the terrible pressure of combat.
Posted By Anonymous Charlotte D., Stockton CA : 6:11 PM ET
Well, if he had issues with killing an INNOCENT, as a "good Christian" might feel, then he shouldn't have shot the man. Period. I love how Christians are so repentent AFTER the fact. Oh right, because you can do ANYTHING and it doesn't count if you have Jesus as your god.

I am pretty sure if a Muslim shot a 52yr old American with a bunch of kids, then said he was really sad about it, felt remorse but was still a "good Muslim" he'd still be called (and considered) a "terrorist", and people begging for his blood.

Funny how people only see terrorists as Middle Eastern Muslims, when we have proof right here that we've got our own American breed of terrorists.

Sometimes the double standards really make me sick.
Posted By Anonymous Barbara, Columbia MD : 6:31 PM ET
Hello all, i read the article and comments and felt i needed to add my two cents. My little brother is a cavalry scout in the army. For those of you who dont know what that is, it means he is at the front of the front line. Relaying info. back and spotting explosives. He had his hummer blown up four times (with him inside) while there. He lost alot of friends including his c.o., who was a father of a newborn baby. He killed more people than he cared to count, and at the same time found christ. He is not proud of killing anyone. I watched my 20 year old brother become a guilt stricken man in less than a month. It tore him up to have to actually kill another human being, but he had no choice. If he didnt do what he knew he had to do he may have not lived to see the next morning. Or his brother standing next to him might catch that bullet, it was an easy choice. besides everyone tells you it was the right thing to do, so it must be. It is easy to me to see how in this stressed mental state these horrific things can occur. I only hope that the men and women we send over there can one day find peace inside themselves. After all it is very easy to sit and talk about what they should have done, but they are the ones who have to live with there actions. Which in some cases may be worse than any prison sentence you could give them. So please dont be so quick to judge, and pray for your soldiers.
Posted By Anonymous Brian Holt,Mi. : 6:56 PM ET
As a former Marine and combat veteran, I can tell you that this Marine is in a terrible position if he was given these orders. He can follow them and then be sentenced and tried as a war criminal or he can refuse to follow orders that he believes are illegal and be tried for not doing his duty ... as Lt. Watada. Either way, the actual criminals will always go free and the enlisted men caught in the middle will pay with their lives either on the battlefield or behind bars.
Posted By Anonymous John C., Bellevue, WA : 7:15 PM ET
I commend to your viewing, if you have not already seen it, the documentary, "Why We Fight." I literally felt sick as I assimilated the devastating effects of American foreign policy and the power of the military industrial complex that may be the most underestimated 'branch' of the government.

I would love to have researchers at Anderson Cooper delve into issues raised by the documentary, particularly the 11 or so permanent American military installations in Iraq that the documentary mentions.

I think this documentary should be required viewing for any responsible journalist. I'll keep my eye on your show, I'd love to see you address the big picture of US foreign policy as it plays out in the Middle East.

Many thanks for your consideration!
Posted By Anonymous Stacey Perkins Rock, New York, NY : 7:20 PM ET
Who are we to judge the actions of men and women caught up in the moment of war. We can sit here in America in our warm comfortable homes and react to the images being beamed from half way around the world but we really don't know what's going on. It's the contents of the heart, mind, body and soul that truly matter.
What is war? What is the proper action and reaction. Making split second decisions in difficult situtations is a constant. The daily stresses of survival have to be tremendously taxing on the human psyche. Christian men and women struggle with the right and wrong issues of war. The expectations of what is in their job description does not nessecarily align with religious beliefs. It's not our place to sit in judgement of actions that take place in times of war.
May God bless every man and woman fighting for our freedoms around the world. Let us all be ever aware of the effects war has on people and may we always be very slow to judge.
Posted By Anonymous Zann Martin, Tennessee : 7:22 PM ET
I don't pretend to know what it's like to be under so much stress. It is true that the soldiers are under a lot of stress,after so much violence,they must be in surviving mode all the time. Plus, they don't know who the enemy is.
But,altough I can understand he could have shot the man by mistake,I have trouble with the fact he covered it. Who's orders was he following?
You see, that's what gets to me everytime I hear a story like that. There is always a cover up somehow. The top ranks are protected and the others take much of the blame. And once again, we can wait until hell freezes over before someone takes responsability. It's always someone else's fault,and numerous young lives are changed for ever,others are lost for ever.
What happened to the 11 kids of that man?

Joanne R.
Laval Quebec
Posted By Anonymous Joanne R.Laval Quebec : 7:34 PM ET
This is all a show, finding one man guilty of killing. IN A WAR?
Everything goes in a war. I am sure this is not the first soldier who snapped from either side of the battle. Let him go. Persecute only those soldiers who abuse their host countries by raping the local women in peaceful times, like what happened in the Philippines.
Posted By Anonymous Anita Sebastian, Los Angeles, CA : 7:48 PM ET
Our President has sent children to war. How can we be surprised at their reaction to it? How can we hold them accountable for what they do, especially when they are following orders?

Another recipe for disaster.

Thanks Mr. Bush, these brave kids now have to learn to live with the label "murderers" on top of everything else. Fantastic! And I thought it could not possibbly get worse.
Posted By Anonymous Pati McMillan, Camp Hill, PA : 7:53 PM ET
First of all, it has nothing to do with religion but rather, has a lot to do with moral character and inner values of an individual.
Secondly, I'm not in a position to question the emotional and personal strife members of the armed forces endure in order for some to commit such an act, and therefore I am not going to condemn or condone the fact.
To Julie, I don't know the source of your information, but as a Hindu by birth (I don't claim to be a religious person at all) what I do know is that I have never ever come across anything in Hinduism that encourages taking another life. What you might be implying (and that I agree with wholeheartedly) is that there are extreme elements in all religions including Hinduism that perpetuate such acts, but it is up to each and every one of us as "human beings" to overcome trivial differences and think about the betterment of humanity as a whole.
Posted By Anonymous Santosh, LA, California : 8:05 PM ET
Christians of all backgrounds must come to terms on a daily basis with their sins whether it's murder, adultery, tax evasion, or gossip. That's the definition of sin: missing the mark. And, we all fall short of the call of perfection in God's sight without the gracious forgiveness of Jesus Christ. No sin is given a greater hierarchy than another--that's designated by man, not God.
Posted By Anonymous Suz, Miami FL : 8:11 PM ET
I wonder if any of the other commenters have ever served in combat or even in the military. It is soo easy to pass judgment sitting at home in your desk chair.

For Human - all I have to say is crusades and inquisition.

As a former Navy personnel, I cannot image what he has gone through. But, I do know that when I was in conflict about my job and what it's implecations would mean, I tried to resolve the conflict by grasping to doing what is 'morally right' or doing this job for the bigger picture. Since that is pretty neboulus, it makes it easy to grasp.

Just my two cents. He made a choice and he must stand for that choice - it doesn't matter if WE like it or not. And if God existed as some believe, then why are we talking about war anyway. Free will is just that.
Posted By Anonymous Neil, Zushi, JP : 8:25 PM ET
If it wasn't for religious differences we would not be fighting at all anyway. It's time the world grew up and got rid of religion like children do Santa Clause.
Posted By Anonymous Rob Mazz, Virginia Beach VA : 8:30 PM ET
Cpl Thomas is a casualty of war. By no means are his actions justified, but we can't sit here in the comfort of our homes and criticize on some moral high ground. Who knows what kind of hell Cpl. Thomas lives in now. But at least we brought freedom to Iraq, right? And I agree with Julie from Idaho's comment. What's with the "christian" angle? Hypocracy rears its ugly head everywhere, especially in religion. No religion owns exclusive rights to morality.
Posted By Anonymous Bob Goldie, San Francisco, CA : 8:30 PM ET
1. There was no inference that Christianity is morally superior to any other religion. It was merely pointed out that CPL Thomas is a man of faith, who is justifiably conflicted over his role in the killing of an innocent person.

2. CPL Thomas is no child, and the last I heard, Jesus was supposedly the only person without sin.

3. The idea that military personnel are "brain washed" into mindless killing machines, incapable of independant thought and judgement is as inaccurate as it is offensive to those of us who wear and have worn the uniform. There is certainly indoctrination and discipline in the military, both of which are necessary for the successful prosecution of a war - which is ugly by its nature.

Our enemies have decapitated civilian hostages, while still alive, and posted videos of those executions on the internet. They have also burnt people's bodies and hung them from bridges. In case you've forgotten, our enemies flew three planes full of civilians and fuel into two civilian office buildings and the Pentagon, and crashed a fourth into a field.

Our enemies are truly brutal and barbaric. It is therefore all the more important that we do not lower ourselves to their level - and that battle is won or lost on an individual level.

Under orders or not, it was the responsibility of CPL Thomas to maintain his humanity. He may have lost that battle.

And since my morals must be similarly corrupted and my mind twisted, please post what correct morals are, so that I can benefit from your expertise.
Posted By Anonymous Mitch, Wheaton IL : 8:37 PM ET
This is the tragedy of war. If not for Iraq, Thomas may have never killed anyone in his life. But "our boys" have been taught by the military to kill, religious beliefs put aside. The purpose of war is to kill, to conquer, and impose the victor's doctrine. I do not believe Thomas is guilty of murder.
Posted By Anonymous Chris Willsie, Altamonte Springs, FL : 8:38 PM ET
I'm not sure how I feel about this soldier or others who are forced to reconsile the whole spectrum of the duty they are assigned in situtations like he was in. Probably because I'm not sure what I would do in this given situation.

The morality and the legality of the war that this man found himself in is questionable, but we are not holding the folks who put our soldiers in these types of situations responsible or even willing as a society to take this question on.
Posted By Anonymous linda, bella vista,ar : 8:40 PM ET
It's an unfortunate world we live in that still considers religious belief the only basis for morality. After centuries and millenia of atrocities committed in the name of religion, how is it possible people still do not see that "faith" does not raise a person's morality above that of someone without faith? But then again, why can't we say that ALL people, religious or not, should "stand together and end the Iraq invasion?"
Posted By Anonymous Tim, Waltham, MA : 8:44 PM ET
What a lot of people fail to see is the situation these soliders are in. Many people haven't had a friend come home with a missing limb or a new hole in their back, so I would not expect the majority understand. You can be a Christian and commit murder, forgiveness is key. Look back at history, most if not all wars, are due to religion. You place religion in a battlefield, and you'll get confusion. Adult or child, makes no difference, right and wrong are diluted and there's not much thought process in the field of war. You choose to live, which is why you fight.
Posted By Anonymous JC Saratoga, CA : 8:45 PM ET
The idea that moral behavior in developed societies stems from holy guidance, in any religion, has been contradicted so many times as to be a cliche. I don't scratch my head when a self-professed Christian (or Muslim) commits an immoral act. Religious conviction is not a predictor of behavior. I supposed that if I, an non-religious person, had shot Mr. Awad it wouldn't have been a surprise. The United States is a very religious society, and a violent one too. High rates of violence and religious devotion, as well as low education levels, can be found together on any demographer's map. That's the story.
Posted By Anonymous John; Seoul, Korea : 8:52 PM ET
Regardless of his or his victim's religion, the fact that this happened is a shame. My heart and prayers go out to Awad's family and to Trent Thomas. It's too bad that our soldiers are in Iraq and it's too bad that conditions there were so horid that our president could make a case for US involvement.
Posted By Anonymous James, Little Rock AR : 9:02 PM ET
It's easy to cry wolf after the fact. I think this soldier is caving in to pressure to point the finger at higher ups. I also suspect this may be a ruse to get out of service. Three tours can wear on anyone. If he wants to confess, go ahead. But why bring more ammunition for anti war groups to hate the military?
Posted By Anonymous Cecilia, Houston Texas : 9:14 PM ET
This entire war is predicated on fabrications and lies, from non-existant WMDs to lies linking Saddam with al Qaeda.

Some fraction of our public is still misinformed enough to believe Saddam was involved in 9/11, and think any and all American atrocities against Arabs (or those who look enough like them) is justified.

This sort of trashy mentality was created, fostered, and encouraged from the White House down the military chain of command. And this is what you reap from it.
Posted By Anonymous Nadia, Los Angeles : 9:25 PM ET
Boo-hoo, what a sob story. He was just doing the same thing he would be doing back in St. Louis.
Posted By Anonymous Jim, Huntington,Nuevo York : 9:42 PM ET
Free will my ass, not when you are in the service. You do what you are told without thinking. When one adds to that the fear of war and the fact that a soldier fights only for the man next to him, it all comes in to focus. Instead of having a marine spend a year in a combat zone, he spends a year, goes home for six months and then gets called back on a continual basis. How many combat tours does it take for a man to break.?
Posted By Anonymous Bill Foley, Eureka, Caif. : 9:58 PM ET
I think most of you are completely missing the point. Our soldiers in this war, as they have in every war, are protecting US back at home and preserving the freedoms that we have come to know and love. That includes the freedom of religon, by the way! They are doing the best job they possibly can under some of the worst conditions imaginable--conditions which I'm sure many of you commentors would be too chicken to endure. However, you have no problem sitting on your high horses judging and condemning the good men and women who are doing what is morally right and defending their country and their God-given and hard-fought-for right to be free! You forget, that these soldiers actually VOLUNTEERED to defend you unappreciative hypocrites! I thank God, yes, I said God, every day for these BRAVE and wonderful service men and women who have the guts to do what needs to be done to protect their country and all of us who don't have the strength or guts to do their job!!
Posted By Anonymous Laura, Tampa, FL : 10:24 PM ET
Killing a noncombatant by a soldier for its psychological effect on their enemy is the very definition of terrorism, is it not?
Posted By Anonymous Mark Spangler Seattle WA : 10:53 PM ET
I think that when a country goes to war there is going to be death. One can not take morals from a normal situation and transfer them into a war like situation. It is just not the same. Marines think differently when they are put into a situation of that sort. This is war and with it, it brings death even if some are undeserving of it.
Posted By Anonymous Josh, Nanaimo BC : 10:55 PM ET
It was wrong to kill those innocent people. But, this is what we've trained people to do. I can remember seeing that little 7-8 year old girl, saying that she will always hate America. Bush's War has caused a people to hate us for generations to come.
Posted By Anonymous Patricia, Palmdale, Ca. : 10:56 PM ET
I believe Thomas did what he was told to do - "Kill" this is war and there are casualties of war. If not him he would be the next target of opportunity to be killed.

Charles
Posted By Anonymous Huntington Beach, CA : 10:56 PM ET
It is understandable how dehumanizing the battle in these provinces of Iraq is for a man like Thomas. I do not understand how we ask a good man like him to go and defend our nation and then lack compassion for him in this circumstance. If anyone should be on trial it is George Bush and his illegal oil war that fuels unfortunate postures such as this one of this unfortunate patriot.
Posted By Anonymous Tom Rogers, Delano MN : 10:56 PM ET
this is not a debate about christian being a muslim or a jew, that soldier killed an unarmed innocent man whoes hands were tied according to his own testimony. That is war crime and he should be punished regardless of how sorry he is
Posted By Anonymous iraqi, oklahoma city, oklahoma : 10:57 PM ET
This is a sad story,but look at what they have done to our military and non military people. I'm not saying this is right,by any means. We just need to get in there finish it up and get out. My prays are with Cpl. Trent Thomas and the others in this.
Posted By Anonymous Barb Bloomington, IL : 10:57 PM ET
what he has done is unbelievable...marines are trained never to break down under any circumstances...he is neither a true marine nor a true christian...he killed an innocent man, a father of now 11 orphans...what do these 11 orphans do now. how must they have felt to see their father being shot infront of their eyes.
Posted By Anonymous Farwah Gardezi, St.Louis MO : 10:57 PM ET
The young man said that, at the time, he thought it would send a message. What message was he sending? It was that whether or not your are allied with the insurgents or an "ordinary citizen" the U.S. military is your enemy. Not acting in a humane way is a recipe for dehumanization. It escalates the problem and is exceedingly shortsighted. Of course he was angry and of course he probably wanted to take that anger out on someone, anyone. This merely points to exactly why this is not the place for the U.S. soldiers. Fighting insurgents is not the place for militaries, it is the place for diplomacy.
Posted By Anonymous M. Hendzel, Edmonton, Canada : 10:58 PM ET
Unless you have served in Iraq, dont judge this man or any other troop. I was there for a year and I understand how clouded your judgement can be when your freinds are dying all around you. No American citizen experiences this everyday like the troops in Iraq do. Weather you agree with the war or not, soilders dont get to choose the wars they fight. If you really think this man is not human for the actions he committed, raise your right hand and join the service and go fight like these young men and women and then see how you feel when your battle buddies are getting blown up everyday and you dont know when it will be you. Hang in their Marine. Good bless out troops. HOOAH

Sarge
Posted By Anonymous Gary Thurman, Lexington, KY : 10:59 PM ET
All of you people that think the Cpl. should be punished are completely wrong. This is war. Innocent people die, damn it was the marine's third deployment. I would like to see how you all would handle yourselves. The real person to blame is President Bush for making these boys, myself included, fight a war like this. It's not right to send people to fight a war with one hand tied behind their backs.
Posted By Anonymous Charley Spencer, Springfield, Missouri : 11:00 PM ET
The story of Cpl. Trent Thomas is just another illustration of how poorly we understand what we are putting our military men and women through in Iraq. Does this justify what Cpl Thomas did? Maybe not, but I think it helps to put some perspective on such situations that otherwise seem unexplainable.
Posted By Anonymous Emily, Washington, DC : 11:01 PM ET
War is Hell, particularly an unjust one. We are Vietnam revisited. Another generation, another time, but here we are again meddling where we are not wanted. Please! let's stop the killing and call it quits.
Posted By Anonymous howard frith. Boynton Beach, FL : 11:01 PM ET
Why are they accusing this Marine of murder? This is a war, I thought in war you should win by any means necessary. Why don't we let those in Congress fight the remainder of the War and see how it feels for them to see their colleagues murdered. How would they feel if they were faced with this type of violence 24/7. Bring the troops home, stop killing our kids. Let some of these great leaders in Congress take a stab at protecting this County on the front lines. Let's see how they good they can do.
Posted By Anonymous M. Hamilton, Detroit, MI : 11:02 PM ET
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