“The simple truth is this: During my first deployment, I was made to participate in things, the enormity of which is hard to describe. War crimes, crimes against humanity.” Those are the words of Daniel Somers, according to a letter posted at Gawker.
Somers served in Joint Special Operations Command in a unit in Mosul from 2006-2007. He ran the Northern Iraq Intelligence Center and was a senior analyst for Levant, which oversaw operations in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and part of Turkey.
Prior to that, the short biography attached to the letter he wrote indicates he was a part of an intelligence unit called Task Force Lightning. The unit was a Tactical Human-Intelligence Team (THT) in Baghdad, Iraq. He was a “machine gunner in the turret of a Humvee” and “ran more than 400 combat missions.” He also “interviewed countless Iraqis ranging from concerned citizens to community leaders and and government officials, and interrogated dozens of insurgents and terrorist suspects.”
On June 10, 2013, he committed suicide because he could not continue to live with what he did while deployed. He also—from reading the letter—had his own health issues that he could not get the Veterans Affairs Department to help him treat.
The letter shows he was anguished by his role in war crimes: “Though I did not participate willingly, and made what I thought was my best effort to stop these events, there are some things that a person simply can not come back from.”
Yet, he adds, “I take some pride in that, actually, as to move on in life after being part of such a thing would be the mark of a sociopath in my mind. These things go far beyond what most are even aware of.”
He comments on having to be a part of a coverup of these war crimes.
“To force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing coverup is more than any government has the right to demand,” he declares. “Then, the same government has turned around and abandoned me. They offer no help, and actively block the pursuit of gaining outside help via their corrupt agents at the DEA. Any blame rests with them.”
No specific war crimes are recounted in the letter, however, it is clear from reading it that he would not be writing it if he had not witnessed or been a part of some atrocities.
Somers is conscious of the fact that a high number of veterans like him are killing themselves each day and that he is about to become a part of that statistic.
“Is it any wonder then that the latest figures show 22 veterans killing themselves each day?” he asks. “That is more veterans than children killed at Sandy Hook, every single day. Where are the huge policy initiatives? Why isn’t the president standing with those families at the state of the union? Perhaps because we were not killed by a single lunatic, but rather by his own system of dehumanization, neglect, and indifference.”
Obviously, Somers is not another tally mark to put on a chalkboard to indicate how many veterans have died from suicide this year. He is a human being who was given orders to kill and at least some who died never should have been killed.
As a member of THT, he would have likely been involved in identifying high value targets who were killed or captured. If captured, they were detained and likely abused or tortured, especially when they were interrogated. They may have been tortured by US soldiers or Iraqi forces. Either way, it likely would have had an impact on him.
Redeploying and working with JSOC would have opened up possibilities of being a participant in more heinous acts.
For example, in Dirty Wars, journalist Jeremy Scahill recounts a night raid in Gardez, Afghanistan, where soldiers kill five innocent people, including three women, two who were pregnant, and an Afghan police commander named Mohammed Daoud. When they realized they committed a war crime, they tried to cover it up by digging the bullets out of the people they had just killed.
Somers could have easily witnessed something similar while working in the Northern Iraq Intelligence Center.
There is immense relief expressed by Somers that he has finally arrived at the moment where he will kill himself. After explaining how much he has tried to cope, he writes:
I am left with basically nothing. Too trapped in a war to be at peace, too damaged to be at war. Abandoned by those who would take the easy route, and a liability to those who stick it out—and thus deserve better. So you see, not only am I better off dead, but the world is better without me in it.
A person who has not been in war is not in a position to second guess the decision Somers made. They do not know and cannot begin to know what he was going through.
The United States is in a state of perpetual war. Those who suffer can either fight and feel as if they are warriors in a battle of good versus evil or they can struggle and suffer, as they respond to the remorse and guilt they are feeling for their actions.
Since society does not want to help the soldiers who are suffering but reject the role they played, it is additionally traumatic for veterans like Somers. So, they ultimately come to the decision that it is better to die than spend each day trying to survive and get better.
Read the full letter written by Daniel Somers and posted at Gawker here.