Imprisoned for Saving American Lives


Former U.S. Army Master Sergeant John Hatley is now serving a forty year sentence in Leavenworth prison. He was convicted by a 2009 Court Martial of murdering four Iraqi insurgent arrestees in Baghdad following a 2007 ambush and firefight, and dumping the bodies into a Baghdad canal.  Two other Sergeants with the Alpha Company 1-18 1st Infantry were also convicted and sent to prison.

Hatley’s wife, Kim Hatley, is leading a crusade to win clemency for her husband. I recently spoke with her by telephone. A veteran of six years as an Intel-analyst and Crypto-analyst with the U.S. Army 18th Airborne Corps, Mrs. Hatley has a nineteen-year-old son in the United States Marine Corps in Afghanistan.  She related some details of events that led up to the firefight, the shootings and the investigation that sent her husband to prison:

John Hatley was a highly decorated combat veteran of nineteen years and six months military service. He was deployed in Bosnia, Kosovo, Panama, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Operation Desert Storm and three tours of duty in Iraq.  The soldiers of Alpha Company 1-18 1st Army Infantry knew him to be the first into a hot spot and the last to come out.  Mrs. Hatley says that her husband was a legend in Alpha Company and treated the soldiers under his command as though they were family.

During daily 2007 patrol operations in the West Rasheed area of Baghdad, Hatley’s soldiers often found themselves under enemy fire.  The post-Hussein sectarian “insurgency” was well under way.  Hatley’s soldiers killed some of the attackers and captured many others.  Over the length of the insurgency, snipers and roadside bombs (IEDs) killed or crippled thousands of Americans.

As the war dragged on, tens of thousands of jihadists who were taken prisoner during or after fire-fights in Baghdad went to the Detention Holding Area Annex (DHAA), which is military terminology for a jail.  Astonishingly, the DHAA personnel released nearly all of them shortly after their arrests, for “lack of sufficient evidence to detain.”  Most of the prisoners were released.  The newly-freed insurgents immediately returned to the streets to resume killing and maiming American soldiers.  This insanity became known as the Catch and Release Program.

Adding to the stress of war, Hatley and his soldiers collected the scores of dead bodies that were regularly dumped onto Baghdad streets by terrorists.  Most of the dead were non-combatant civilians who had been tortured and mutilated prior to their executions.

Then, on February 27, 2007, an insurgent sniper killed Staff Sergeant Karl Soto-Pinedo, who was like a beloved son to Hatley.  Mrs. Hatley told me that her husband was grief-stricken to the point of dysfunction by Soto-Pinedo’s death.  On March 17, Spc. Mario Guerrero was killed by a road-side bomb explosion.  All the same, the patrols went on ceaselessly, from 4:00 a.m. to 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. – every day.  For months on end Hatley and his soldiers fought the war on three or four hours of sleep per night.

On a particular April day in 2007, Hatley’s unit once again came under fire. Four insurgents ran from a house where they hid during the fire-fight and the Americans soon captured them.  U.S. troops found small arms, sniper rifles and ammunition within that house. All of the captured insurgents field-tested “positive” for gunshot residue on their hands.

Hatley radioed the DHAA that he was en-route with the four detainees.  The DHAA refused to receive them, citing a “lack of sufficient evidence to hold.”  Hatley was ordered to release these terrorists who had tried to kill American soldiers.  Now, as the alleged story that came out in court goes, he discussed the DHAA release order with two of his subordinates, Sgt. Michael Leahy and Sgt. Joseph Mayo.  The Sergeants decided they had just about had their fill of Catch and Release, and that these four insurgents were not going free to return to kill and maim Americans. They subsequently drove the four terrorists to a nearby canal, fired one shot each into the backs of their heads, and dumped the dead bodies into the water.  Sgt. Jesse Cunningham, seated inside their parked vehicle, apparently watched all of it in the rear-view mirror. The bodies, however, were never found.  No local residents reported anyone missing.

By 2009, the Hatleys were stationed in Germany.  Sgt. Jesse Cunningham got himself into a jam with the Army for assaulting another non-commissioned officer and for falling asleep at his post – both serious offenses if proven.  Under investigation, Cunningham talked to a JAG lawyer and decided to trade what he knew about the 2007 Baghdad shootings to get himself off the hook.  He became “the snitch.”

Using Cunningham’s statement, the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) extracted confessions from both Leahy and Mayo.  Hatley refused to admit having done anything wrong.  The military trial was in Vilseck, Germany, from April 13 through 16, 2009.

Cunningham, Leahy and Mayo all took the witness stand against their former First Sergeant.  Mrs. Hatley, who was present for the entire trial, told me that Leahy and Mayo, who had already been convicted, looked to be in great distress on the stand during testimony and appeared to everyone that they did not want to testify against their First Sergeant. Both received bad conduct discharges and prison time.  Hatley received a dishonorable discharge to go along with his life sentence.  Members of the press openly wept when the sentence was handed down.

Mrs. Hatley now spends endless hours on the internet and the phone, mustering support for her husband’s release.  She sounds optimistic, despite the terrible situation.  She says that even in prison her husband has received meritorious staff reports, once for saving a choking prisoner’s life by administering the Heimlich maneuver.

The endless conflict goes on.  Soldiers and Marines deal with Rules of Engagement (ROE) that tie their hands and prolong the national agony of our overseas involvement in the eternal war that Islam declared against infidels nearly fourteen-hundred years ago.

Many officers in the military’s upper echelons remain willfully ignorant of Islamic doctrine and oblivious to its dynamics in the war.  They write the crippling ROE and the Catch-and-Release policies that have caused the deaths of innumerable American soldiers and Marines — and they sit comfortably behind their desks at the Pentagon.  In the meantime, men like John Hatley sit in prison.

[For those wishing to help Kim Hatley win clemency for her husband, visit DefendJohnHatley.com.]

John L. Work is a contributor to NewsReal Blog.  He is a retired Colorado Law Enforcement Officer and a free-lance writer.

  • Spc By***

    I served with 1sgt hatley in OIF II
    He is an honorable man and would never kill an "innocent" person the dead are dead for a reason ……

    I believe it was sherman who said "war is hell"

    I had a saying in iraq that I live to this day ….." I would rather be judged by 12 then carried by 6"
    I dont care if you are muslim , buddist , catholic , LDS or any other of the mulititude of them out there….. I will defend my family ,my country, and my comrads with my life …hopefully taking more of yours before you take mine

  • MSGT

    AGAIN OUR MILITARY BRASS HAS BROKEN DOWN . I HAVE SEEN THIS OVER AND OVER AGAIN.DOULBE STANDARD. WHAT THESE SOLIDERS DID HAPPENS IN EVERY WAR . SOME SOLDIER IN THERE COMPANY WAS IN TROUBLE AND DESIDED TO LET EVERYONE NOW WHAT THEY DID. I WILL BET A MILLION DOLLARS ON IT. SO THE BRASS DESIDES TO MAKE A SAMPLE OUT OF IT. AND IT WORKS. IT IS A BREAK DOWN IN GOVERMENT. ENLIST THEM BACK FOR THREE YEARS TRAIN OTHERS NOT TO DO WHAT THEY DID AND MAKE A POSITIVE INTO A NEGATIVE. THAT IS CALLED LEARNING BY MISTAKE. NATO 96 HOUR TIMED SERVED.

  • MSGT

    ANYONE REMEBER THE NAMES NECK BERG OR DANIEL PEARL. THESE MEN WERE ON TV ALL OVER THE WORLD.THE MONSTERS THAT CHOPPED OFF NECK BERG AND DANIELS PEARLS HEADS WERE CAPTURED AND THEN RELEASED SOME OF THEM WERE KILLED IN SMALL FIRE FIGHTS. OTHERS "LITTLE BIRDIE"SAID CAME TO AMERICA TO BE RATS. JAG REALLY NEEDS TO WORK ALOT HARDER AND FASTER TO REENLIST OUR SOLDIERS BACK TO DUTY WITH COMPENSATION TO THEM AND THERE FAMILIES FOR LACK OF EVIDENCE. THE GOVERMENT SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR ALL ACTIONS TAKEN BY MILITARY SOLDIERS .BECAUSE THEY TRAINED THEM .BY THE WAY JESSE CUNNINGHAM IS YOUR WITNESS.

  • Dave

    Karim can go jump in the lake

  • Mark Smith

    as one who has been a victim of the UCMJ i think you have reached the last posiable step in having your husband released. That is the Presdent of the US has to grant a pardon. How ever i don't know if he will get he retirement pay or VA benifits. What he did i can't say was right or wrong. What i do think is now there is going to be alot more shootings rather then taking personer to jail and trial. This is not a good thing to happen. I think the military needs to look at proble cause for detention. And have the facitliys to hold and trial them.

  • ali mack

    one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. our countries invaded another soveriegn state without any provocation and against international law. any iraqui in iraq who shoots are or bombs any foreign military personnel or installations is as within their rights as any other citizen of any other country invaded by foreign forces.

  • K dub

    Sry but i don't think Hatley should have killed them. I agree that the catch and release policy sounds screwed up, but he should be trying to change the policy, not just killing people. I kinda understand where he is coming from, but still. Anyways, regardless of how ethical his decision was, it might end up doing more good towards policy change than nonviolent means would since this will probably bring attention to the issue.