Camilo's Retreat

He left the war behind to enter a whole new controversy

For the next six hours, Camilo and his men guarded the enemy combatants. "Some of the guys yelled at them to stay awake on my orders," Camilo says. "They used the sledgehammer but not the gun." Camilo contends he was afraid to criticize the treatment. "There were a lot of ways to justify what we were doing, and I used them all," he concedes.

"Abu Ghraib wasn't some isolated event involving a few bad apples. High government officials and nameless contractors were calling the shots."

Sgt. Naugle, Camilo's superior, says only part of Camilo's story is true. He denies crimes were committed at Al Asad. "Yes, there was sleep deprivation used," he says. "I don't know if you would consider that abuse considering you have terrorists cutting people's heads off."

From left: On May 21, 2004, two military police officers led Camilo away in handcuffs following his conviction on desertion charges.
From left: On May 21, 2004, two military police officers led Camilo away in handcuffs following his conviction on desertion charges.
Camilo sits on boxes of correspondence, hundreds of letters he received from supporters while imprisoned at Fort Sill, in Oklahoma.
Jacqueline Carini
Camilo sits on boxes of correspondence, hundreds of letters he received from supporters while imprisoned at Fort Sill, in Oklahoma.

By July 2003, the insurgents had intensified their attacks in Ar Ramadi. One day, an improvised bomb killed an Iraqi and injured seven others. One American soldier lost his leg and another his eye in the same attack. Soon Charlie Company's squad leaders received orders to block all the city's major intersections during curfew, a mission dubbed "Operation Shutdown."

Military leaders believed that attackers were coming from outside Ar Ramadi, but Camilo insists they were local. "They knew the lay of the land," he says. "They would escape into people's homes."

Operation Shutdown was a disaster from the get-go, Camilo explains. The first mistake, he asserts, was Lt. Col. Mirabile's order that the platoon squads follow the same procedure for three consecutive nights. "It gave away the element of surprise," Camilo relays. "He would constantly make us do things that made no sense. There was a lot of resentment against him." (Mirabile, who is currently a financial analyst in Miami's employee relations department, declined repeated requests for comment.)

On the third night of Operation Shutdown, an American soldier opened fire with his machine gun on an 18-wheeler that failed to stop at a roadblock, killing the civilian driver. No weapons or explosives were found in the truck.

On day four, Camilo's squad walked into a raging gunbattle at a roadblock that was being manned by two other squads from Charlie Company. Four soldiers, including a lieutenant, had been seriously injured when their Humvee was hit either by a rocket-propelled grenade or a mine. Shrapnel and bullets tore up one man's legs and ripped three fingers off another. Two others were cut in the arms and neck.

In response, at another checkpoint, American soldiers with a 50-caliber gun decapitated a man who was driving fast though a checkpoint. Riding in the passenger seat was the man's child, whom Camilo saw crying next to the corpse.

Then Mirabile ordered yet another night of Operation Shutdown. "It seemed pretty clear that the colonel was using us as bait to instigate a firefight," Camilo says. "But no one was going to question the chain of command."

Camilo argues the lieutenant colonel exposed his men to danger unnecessarily. "Mirabile had been in the infantry for 20 years and had no combat experience whatsoever," Camilo says. "That is like being a chef and you never cooked a meal." Naugle also admitted that he had not seen combat in his 24 years until being deployed to Iraq. "The majority of us, between 95 percent to 99 percent, I'd say, had never seen action," Naugle adds.

Private Oliver Perez, who was part of Camilo's squad, echoed Camilo's statement. "A lot of the missions put us in harm's way, almost as if intentionally," says Perez, who enlisted when he was 19 years old and left the military in 2006. "It was an unrealistic expectation to have us stay in the same spot, even kind of suicidal."

A few days after the end of Operation Shutdown, Camilo says he was shown an anonymous letter threatening Mirabile and his family in South Florida if the battalion were not redeployed home. "They were trying to find out who wrote it," Camilo explains. "I think it had to do with the fact that he wanted to beautify his résumé to make it appear that he was hardcore, that he saw combat, and that he killed a lot of bad guys."

(Mirabile provided drama for CNN's Christiane Amanpour, who aired a report five months after Operation Shutdown citing the lieutenant colonel's 24 years as a Miami cop as his secret weapon in training Ar Ramadi's then-nascent police force. "Everything is driven by intelligence," Mirabile commented on camera. On the day of the interview, Mirabile and Amanpour observed a house raid where armed forces turned up a stash of rocket-propelled grenades and a couple of AK-47s. Mirabile informed the camera that the raid nabbed a tribal warlord. "What this reminds me of," he boasted, "is the old 1978-1986 cocaine cabals we used to have in Miami, where you'd find firepower like this.")

Warfel, a Pennsylvania-born military man, defends the lieutenant colonel. "Mirabile was a brilliant military strategist," he affirms. "He never dictated how to carry out the missions. That was the sole discretion of the platoon leaders." Moreover, in fall 2003, Mirabile's battalion was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, one of the highest honors given to infantrymen.

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