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Camilo's Retreat

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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.

The real problem was that Camilo lost the will to fight, Warfel contends. "He was scared. We were in the most dangerous city in Iraq. There were always grumblings about the missions we did."

Naugle agrees: "Camilo's casting unfair blame. There was no way to accomplish that mission without closing the streets off."

During the third week of September 2003, Camilo approached Warfel about ending his military service. He pointed out that he had fulfilled his contract four months earlier and that his U.S. residency was about to expire. By federal law, he said, he should be discharged.

But Warfel didn't approve. Instead, he accused Camilo of cowardice and allowed him a two-week leave. Before signing the papers, though, Warfel asked Camilo to pledge he would return. "I remember it like it was yesterday," Warfel says. "He looked me dead in the eyes and promised me he was coming back."

At the time, National Guard soldiers rarely got leave. "Camilo was bumped to the top of the list because he said he was going to take care of his green card issues," a seething Naugle says. "To take that slot away from another soldier and abuse it the way he did is unforgivable."

Camilo jumped on a convoy truck headed for Baghdad International Airport, where he boarded a C-130 transport plane. That was the last time he saw Iraq.

On October 4, 2003, Camilo arrived at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport and took a cab to his mother's apartment in Sunny Isles Beach. "When I opened the door and saw him, I just hugged him for as long as I can remember," Castillo says. "I was just so happy to see him in one piece."

The following morning, Camilo saw his daughter for the first time in nine months. "I was scared," Camilo says. "I had changed. I asked myself how could I be a good father knowing I had abused prisoners and killed innocents."

During the next few days, Camilo couldn't sleep. There was the Al Asad prison camp, the ambush outside Ar Ramadi, the dead teenager with the grenade, the child standing next to his headless father's body. He didn't want to return. "There were so many issues going through my head," Camilo says. "Even though I had no doubts I was fighting an immoral war, I kept thinking about the guys in my unit. Didn't I have a duty to lead them?"

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.

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