My name is John C. Buckley IV, my yard name is “Ranger”. The reasons for this is because I was a member of the elite 3rd Ranger Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment for deployments to both Afghanistan & Iraq. As we are in the 20th year remembrance of the invasion of Iraq, I am reminded of an experience I had as a young 20 year old and the irony of that experience in a far away land as it relates to my current circumstance.
The invasion of Iraq was different for my brothers and I than it was for others. I was an experienced combat soldier at 20. In fact, Iraq was my third deployment. I’d already been one of the first soldiers to set boots in the sands of Afghanistan after 9-11. I’d already been awarded the Purple Heart and a Valor Award. Iraq was my first experience as a non-commissioned Officer however, and I’m convinced to this day there is no finer job in the world. Actually, my time in Iraq began 2 months ahead of everyone else’s. We parachuted into North Western Iraq and ran interdiction mission on enemy packs in the area and crossing the border. At some point an emergency order came down to immediately change course and hump over to the Haditha where Sadam had built the world’s longest Dam. The intel we had was that Sadaam planned to blow up the Dam which would flood the Euphrati River valley which would halt the advance of our mechanized units coming from Kuwait, prohibiting them from reaching Baghdad. This would have cost the lives of the million people who lived in the Euphrati River valley.
My brothers and I went there with a company of Rangers 2 Platoons from Bravo Company and 1 Platoon from Charlie Company (I am a proud Charlie Company Man! ). Our intel proved faulty and the enemy was vastly superior to what we were led to believe. The initial firefight lasted for 28 hours after which we pulled back on top of the dam and received indirect fire (artillery, mortar and tank rounds, rocket blasts) in excess of 450 rounds a day for 6 days. It was a hell of a fight.
Rest in peace to my brothers CPT Ripitoe, 5SG Lividais and SPC Long who were killed April 3rd ‘03, rushing to help a pregnant girl in distress who turned out to be a suicide bomber. Nino Lividais’s wife Jackie was 8 months pregnant at the time which may have explained his rush to help.
20 years is a long time, but even from this dungeon, 20 years later, my heart is still broken. I miss you Nino.
In the early hours of dusk, we charged the dam. My Platoon’s job was to clear the top where there were a few patrols and where we took some initial contact. After sweeping East, we then took a hard left and began clearing building by building down into an industrial center in front of the dam. As my team swept West back towards the River, one of my brothers called out “contact!” over my headset. I located him through my Night Vision Goggles as he had turned the floodlight on his infrared laser. My teammate had located a “gap” in the earth in which his Laser was illuminating several sets of irises. I could tell upon inspection that a hole had been dug in the earth and a 4-inch steel door had been placed atop it. As I opened it, I noticed stairs descending into a bunker so I switched my IR floodlight on and the bunker illuminated. I saw 6 Iraqi soldiers, all in uniform. Each man had an AK-47 in his lap and a gas mask strapped to his leg. I saw several RPKs and RPGs sitting in a pile in the middle of the bunker “Habibis” (my friends), “La tet Heraq” (Don’t move!). They stared at me. Suddenly, I saw movement in the back right corner. I should note that several of my friends from that night received the Silver Star from fragging enemy bunkers and this could have been “my” moment.
My thumb moved the selector switch from “safe” to “auto” on my weapon, but I would not murder them. They would have to draw down on me first even though my Rules of Engagement (ROE) had me in the clear to take them out. I screamed, “La Tet Heraq! La Tet Heraq! Moushaulah! Moushqulah!” Don’t move! Don’t Move! Problem! Problem! (please forgive my atrocious spelling of these words in this beautiful language, there’s no Google where I am.) I prepared myself to act, although I would take no pleasure in it, just like the other times I acted in service to my nation. Right on the edge, a man pulled out a cigarette and lit it. I couldn’t believe it!
These men became prisoners of mine and I treated them with respect and dignity. I did not shame them, I didn’t mistreat them. In retrospect, I would not have been able to live with myself had I murdered these men, medal or no medal. I also find myself respected those foreign soldiers more for facing me on a field of battle than 90% of the rest of people I came in contact with.
Which brings me to the irony of this anniversary: 20 years ago, I held enemy POWs in my charge and treated them with the respect and dignity due to them as human beings. Today I sit imprisoned for a crime of which I’m innocent in a literal hell on earth. Last August, I wrote an article exposing certain facts about some of the torture, gross negligence and inhumane living conditions I experience living in this 150 year old prison. As I result of that being published in the Louisville Courier Journal, I have been retaliated against in grand “Jack Boot” fashion. I have been tortured; I have been humiliated nude in front of female staff. Officers from Internal Affairs at this prison have attempted to solicit other inmates to stab and/or kill me. I’ve been held in isolation/solitary confinement for months on end for no reason and no due process. Holding back my mail, opening my legal confidential mail from my appeals lawyer which is unconstitutional, keeping me away from my family and children, interfering with communications with my Attorney. All because I wanted to be treated the way the law says I’m supposed to be treated and I want other inmates also to be treated that way. Like human beings.
I knew there would be consequences for exposing the truth. Like the Ranger I am, I was ready to pay them. What I didn’t expect was the lack of response to the Open Letter (article) I wrote to the Governor. I know for a fact that it was read in his office. I know the KY DOC Commissioner’s office read the letter. On my website there is a paper trail a mail long to substantiate my claims and I have other inmates and ex-prison employees testimonies that also back me up. But our leaders have turned a blind eye because… I’m just an inmate. Any cursory investigation would have been surface and based on the word of the prison administration. There is no concern for the welfare of those who are hidden from view.
20 years ago, I could have gotten a medal for murdering those men. But they were MY prisoners and I treated them like the men they were. What happened at Abu Gharib was a horrible tragedy perpetrated by some poorly trained “weekend warriors” that made ALL Americans look like dishonorable Cowards. Donald Rumsfeld lost his job over it. I say to you dear reader that Abu Gharib is perpetrated right now by Americans on Americans in our Prison systems! By our Correctional Staff on our Inmate population every day. Not all prisons are this way. But this one certainly is! The Warden of this prison and his Internal Affairs Staff seem to enjoy the suffering of others. This is NOT “trying to do their jobs”.
I suppose since I’m an “inmate” now, my suffering no longer matters to John Q Public. 20 years ago, I answered your call, over and over and over and over… I gave you my body, my mind, my innocence and my youth. What’s really insane is that I’d do it all again. I guess what I’m asking is that you return the favor…
Ranger Buckley from the Front Lines, Out!
RLTW (Rangers Lead the Way)!