Contractor death raises concerns about US Marine conduct in Iraq

Contractor death raises concerns about US Marine conduct in Iraq
An American contractor died during an altercation with US Marines in Iraq, prompting a trial.
3 min read
04 August, 2020
The Marines are standing trial [Getty Stock Image]

The death of an American contractor in a bar in Iraq last year is raising questions about the conduct of US special forces in the war-torn country.

Three Special Operations Marines are standing trial in a secretive military case following the death of retired Master Sergeant Richard A. Rodriguez last November.

Rodriguez died after a bar fight with marines in northern Iraq late last year, and since then the case has fired up the US military community.

Charged in his death are Navy Chief Petty Officer Eric S. Gilmet, Gunnery Sgt. Daniel A. Draher Jr. and Gunnery Sgt. Joshua S. Negron.

The trio are accused of involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, obstruction of justice and drinking while deployed in violation of a general order.

Alcohol is banned for deployed service members aside from a few very specific exceptions - none of which were satisfied in this case.

According to video footage and witness accounts obtained by The Washington Post, Rodriguez and the marines got into a verbal confrontation at the bar. After the contractor was ejected by the bouncer, the trio - including a sailor - left the bar and continued the argument outside.

The conversation led to a physical altercation in which one of the Marines punched the contractor - who was working for LockHeed Martin at the time - and he suffered a nine-inch skull fracture, according to previously unreported military documents and security video footage reviewed by the Post.

"The evidence establishes that Mr. Rodriguez initiated the situation that eventually escalated into the incident charged," the officer in charge of the Article 32 hearing, Col. Glen Hines, wrote in the report.

On video it appears Draher approached Rodriguez with his hands at his hands, and Rodriguez lunged and swung at Draher.

At that point Negron punched Rodriguez in the left side of his face.

The trio eventually brought the contractor back to their base but did not initially take him to a military hospital.

Instead they took him to his room, and Gilmet, trained in combat medicine, stayed with him overnight, the report said.

In the morning the contractor stopped breathing and he was taken first to a military hospital, and then flown to Germany for extra care. It was there he died.

The military trials of the sailor and two marines, all of whom are members of elite Marine Forces Special Operations Command [MARSOC] is currently taking place in the US behind closed doors.

The hearing went unannounced "in accordance with service regulations that prohibit including the name of accused in routine disseminations", said Maj. Kristin Tortorici, a Marine spokeswoman.

However, details of high-profile cases such as this tended to be disclosed.

Ten other Marines were punished for "collateral misconduct" uncovered during the investigation, Tortorici revealed.

The death of the contractor adds to a growing number of incidents which have raised concerns about US military personnel conduct abroad. Last year, a Navy SEAL in Iraq was accused of sexual assault.

The incidents last year prompted a review by Army Gen. Richard D. Clark, chief of US Special Operations Command, and he found that there had been an erosion of leadership and ethics in command.

"We have often been too complacent as we build, train and certify our teams for the rigors of operating in a complex world," Clarke said at the time.

"We are renewing emphasis on proper accountability and supervision, and setting conditions for leader presence in the right places."

Rodriguez, 45 was married father with four children, and served 21 years in the Army, deploying to Afghanistan four times and earning a Bronze Star with V for valor in combat in September 2009.

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