Saturday, May 16, 2009


Peray, Thailand

A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse
--Caleb Williams, William Godwin

A contractor who killed an Afghan man for dousing his colleague with gasoline and setting her afire was exonerated in U.S. federal court last week.
The lenient decision could be read as giving contractors a license to kill (No Jail Time in Retribution Killing Overseas).

"Amid a mundane conversation about fuel prices, Abdul Salam doused an American anthropologist with gasoline and lit her on fire, an attack in a small Afghan village last year that was as ferocious as it was unexpected. When Don M. Ayala learned what had happened to his colleague moments after subduing and handcuffing Salam, he placed his 9mm pistol against Salam's head and pulled the trigger, killing the detainee instantly.

"Ayala, a former Army Ranger who was working on Afghanistan's battlefields as a contractor, admitted his crime and later entered a guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter in what U.S. federal prosecutors called an "execution." Yesterday, in an Alexandria federal courtroom, although prosecutors urged Judge Claude M. Hilton to impose a jail sentence of at least six years, Hilton spared Ayala jail time because of the horrific and emotional circumstances that preceded the slaying."

Is it correct to say Mr. Ayala was "working on the battlefield"? Has the battlefield been defined? Is it the entire country of Afghanistan? Ms. Loyd was an anthropologist, whose assignments are not combat assignments.

This is an atrocious situation in which a U.S. type does a field adjudication on an Afghan national. The message is that Americans are killers, just like the Talibs. And a Ranger, no less -- a title synonymous with honor, integrity and duty. What has happened to Federal sentencing guidelines, or is there an exception permitting kneeling a hadji in the ditch and slapping a 9 mm to his head?

"Although prosecutors said Salam deserves no sympathy, they also argued that Ayala exacted illegal revenge on a then-incapacitated detainee. Salam's motive and potential terrorist co-conspirators will never be known because he was slain."

This presumes an unproven terror linkage to Salam. Killing an American woman may have simply been a statement of hatred for America, and does not necessarily indicate an association with al-Qaeda. There are plenty of unaffiliated Afghans who would be willing to kill an American when the opportunity arises.

This action highlights the inconsistency of U.S. Counterinsurgency policy and the entire Phony War on Terror
(PWOT ©). Mr. Ayala was a contractor, yet he apprehended and handcuffed an Afghan suspect. Contractors are not police, and do not have arrest powers.

If COIN is real, then only the Afghan police could arrest a suspected evil-doer. If real, then Mr. Ayala would have been arrested on the spot by Afghan officials for his summary execution. That it didn't happen that way shows there are two yardsticks for adjudication of suspects.

To those who would say Mr. Ayala was within his rights, taking that argument to its logical end, the Afghan police would have been within their rights to then shoot Mr. Ayala for his actions.

Mr. Salam had an unknown number of extended family members and tribal affiliates and now, with one 9 mm round, has created an unknown number of insurgents.
Revenge is like a virus that replicates stealthily within a society.

It seems there is a racial aspect to prosecutions in the PWOT. Muslims go to U.S. prison, while white guys walk, even if the offense is proportional. There are those who will cheer Mr. Ayala's retribution,
but if we say we are there to democratize them, we must offer a viable alternative. If we do not, we have removed their ideological options. When justice is a joke, so too is democracy. The two are correlates.

It would be interesting to know the source of funds for Mr. Ayala's defense.
It is possible that an unstated mission of contractors is to keep the war going?

Don't kill the Golden Goose.

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Blogger Serving Patriot said...

If COIN is real, then only the Afghan police could arrest a suspected evil-doer. If real, then Mr. Ayala would have been arrested on the spot by Afghan officials for his summary execution. That it didn't happen that way shows there are two yardsticks for adjudication of suspects.Ranger, you once again point out the essential fallacy of the so-called "COIN" evangelists. And, IMO the difference between a real "liberation" and a simple "occupation."

Unless and until our forces can adopt this simple maxim -- the life of any person in country x is more valuable and precious than the life of any American soldier -- any counterinsurgency is doomed to failure (and most likely, in short order).

This particular event has escaped much notice in the mainstream here in USA. I think Wired's Danger Blog and SWJ had many more details. Bottom line, at a minimum, Ayala deserved prison time inside an military dungeon, and perhaps faced such if he were a duly enlisted Soldier. Instead, not unlike Blackwater mercenaries, he escapes justice by trading on emotion and his "non-combatant"(?) status.


Sunday, May 17, 2009 at 7:51:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

Don't kill the Golden Goose.true that.

more than anything else it is the money suck from government, to cronies that drives this war.

a casual examination of the halliburton stock prices will tell you all you need to know about the "reasons" for these wars and occupations.

they went to war, they killed civilians, and americans, because they could not contain or control their greed.

they tortured people in order to get false confessions for their justification for these wars.


miss california had photos taken while she isn't wearing a shirt. oh, and she just hates her the gay....

fuck it.
never mind.

Sunday, May 17, 2009 at 10:13:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


Jim will comment later, but what strikes me is your comment that COIN is doomed until the US accepts "the life of any person in country x is more valuable and precious than the life of any American soldier."

To that I would say, "equally valuable". (And of course, Ms. Loyd was not a soldier.) In the US, we don't field adjudicate a handcuffed suspect, loathsome as that suspect may appear.

That's not the way democracy works. And in light of a case like this, our claim to export and transplant democracy becomes a transparent lie.

Sunday, May 17, 2009 at 10:22:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

In the US, we don't field adjudicate a handcuffed suspectrodney king has an entirely different take on that statement.

Sunday, May 17, 2009 at 11:33:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hesitate to interrupt the legal musings on this entry on the Don Ayala case, but I believe someone should point out that the finer points of law are moot in a country where a man can unexpectedly pour gasoline over a woman and set her on fire. Perhaps the Afghan was anti-American, perhaps he just liked tall flames and the shrieks they produce. Whatever. But there’s a naïve charm in the expectation that the local police were on their way and that the local judiciary was fully prepared to adjudicate the matter. I suspect neither is true. Don Ayala’s bullet to the head may have been illegal, but I wonder if that quick, unvarnished reaction isn’t what really passes for justice in Afghanistan. I also wonder if the next American woman in the area won’t be a little safer if the Afghans believe the men around her will react quickly and decisively if she is harmed. Mostly I wonder why Ayala’s action evokes such derision, while the spur of the moment gasoline and match murder is not much commented on. There’s not much pity for the lady who was barbecued. She is the one I feel for. Frankly, I don't see any law in play in this incident. Just casual brutality and furious reaction. Sounds like Afghanistan to me. Signed, Jan S. (who doens't have a Goodle identity).

Sunday, May 17, 2009 at 8:19:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


You say, "I hesitate to interrupt the legal musings on this entry on the Don Ayala case, but I believe someone should point out that the finer points of law are moot in a country where a man can unexpectedly pour gasoline over a woman and set her on fire."

...Then you believe the "finer points of law are moot" in the U.S., "where a man can unexpectedly pour gasoline over a woman and set her on fire"?

Just sayin'...

Monday, May 18, 2009 at 6:47:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

Jan S,
Yes , let's do talk some fine points- the US uses overwhelming fire superiority that kills innocent civilians but the one American killed in an outrageous manner is supposed to get us all weepy and sobby. Not me.!
This incident shows the level of hatred towards Americans and possibly to our women-so why do we create the illusion and lie that we're winning their hearts and minds? This case is indicative of quite the opposite. If the country is lawless then why would the US authorities allow US civilians to swan around the country without sufficient security????

Monday, May 18, 2009 at 9:20:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

We love you even if you don't have a google identity.
I've got to come back and make more commentary since this is not a legal issue but rather moral conundrum. These contractors are big boys and girls and voluntarily put themselves out there in hostile areas. VOLUNTARY. For the buckos-big buckos. So it's hard to feel sadness since they made their decision and all flows from that- run with the big dogs, pee on the big trees and all that jazz.

Now let's think about the guy throwing the gas and lighting her up- he has no choices -he's stuck in a village and foreignors are romping and stomping all over the place. Let's further think of all the refugees that have no place to go. Refuges from high levels of violence from all sides. What are their options?? Oh, that's right let's give them cutsie purple thumbs- that's so much better than having a real safe haven.WHAT ABOUT THIS DON'T YOU GET? But once again let's ramp it up and send in more troops to provide more enjoyment pleasure of the Fox News crowd.
This war defines the word STUPIDITY.

Monday, May 18, 2009 at 9:43:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous sheerahkahn said...

"I hesitate to interrupt the legal musings on this entry on the Don Ayala case, but I believe someone should point out that the finer points of law are moot in a country where a man can unexpectedly pour gasoline over a woman and set her on fire."Point taken, and understood.
Now, the reason why we need to be different.
America, allegedly is suppose to be different.
Regardless of what's what, who's who, or who did what to whom, the one thing that could be counted on was that America leaned heavily on jurisprudence.
i.e.: Yes, the world may act like a pack of rabid gibbons flinging poo at each other, but at least the Americans are going to bring justice down.

Now, granted, that aforementioned viewpoint is a bit mythological at this point in time I still, foolishly perhaps, believe in that crap.
Paint me romantic.

However, I would like to think we, we being Americans, have moved beyond the whole "Wild, Wild, West!" social model of justice, and viewed it as something of a "whew, glad that is over" rather than, "hey, that was pretty cool, lets do that again!"

Repeating history, makes me itch.

Monday, May 18, 2009 at 9:54:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger FDChief said...

I've used this analogy before and I'll use it here.

In the movie "Ragtime" the anarchists are holed up in the museum and the curator rushes up to the police chief and shouts that he (the chief) needs to act with caution because of the value of the museum. The chief (played by Jimmy Cagney) looks this mook up and down and asks who the hell is he. The curator of the museum, says the mook. Well, why don't you go tell that to those guys in there? asks the chief. Are you joking, my good man?! brays the mook. Well you're wasting your time here, says the chief, because as long as those fellas are in there you ain't the cu-ra-tor of anything.

This little story sums up the entire problem we're facing and why all this nosensical farting around in central Asia will be for nothing in the end.

If we were serious about wanting to end up with capable, allied "governments" in Baghdad and Kabul then these trials would be a sham. The Americans in question would get thirty years hard so the locals would see how much we loved and respected them. Or the noose. It wouldn't be about anyone's "rights" - it'd be about doing what was needed to accomplish the pacification/occupation mission.

It would be no different than when a German soldier was accused of raping a woman in an occupied town in Alsace. The garrison would draw lots and one unlucky bastard would hang. The German commander didn't give a shit about the soldier or the woman - he just wanted to keep the place quiet. If we were serious about this the locals would have been trying and sentencing our guys since back in the days when Rummie was still snowflaking the Pentagon.

But of course, we're not. We want to play at war and make things go boom, but we don't want to do the hard, dirty work that it would take to make political change in central Asia happen. That'd mean doing things the central Asian way, that'd mean that accepting that the U.S.American-way isn't the best. And we'll never do that.

Nope. This stuff - and it's been happening since 2002 - just reminds the locals that as long as the GIs are there, they ain't the "cu-ra-tors" of anything, including their own lands.


Monday, May 18, 2009 at 1:50:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


Your ragtime analogy is spot-on, and your example of the lack of U.S. trials shows how phony the endeavor of democratizing the place is.

There have been no prosecutions over any of the homicides which have occurred while detainees were in U.S. custody. Their sense of impotence must be overwhelming.

At Abu Ghraib, the thumbs-up woman with the Iceman was disciplined. However, the murderer was never indicted. How wrong is that?

Monday, May 18, 2009 at 9:24:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, my vote's for Don Ayala on this one.

Friday, May 22, 2009 at 6:49:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

I hear you and really do understand your position. I also know that you actually realize what this means-you've been there and done that BUT as i always say - either we are or we aren't . You can't be a stone killer and be selling democracy. On a personal level I have no problem pulling a trigger or even swinging a blunt hammer but we do not act as individuals. We are soldiers not killers. Just b/c this asshole killed an Amie in a most horrible manner this does not remove our humanity.
Now to our war.The entire RVN war went downhill AFTER the photo of Gen Loan killing the VC on a Saigon street corner. This execution was cold and obviously Loan was cool and collected but after that the US people were in favor of stacking arms. Just imagine if there were photos released of Ayala spattering brains over the street. How would that play in Peoria or Kabul? I generally have no problem with killing people if it's done within the framework of emotionless legality. That's my personal protection policy.

Saturday, May 23, 2009 at 11:06:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger tenacitus said...

The US Military has been using psychologists, anthropologists and other folks in the social siences in combat and intelligence roles. Many of these social scientists also assist, or plan interrogations, and try and guess what the opposing forces are going to try and do.

With their role as war fighters it is very likely that the anthropoligst who was doused with gasoline was a combatant it, is very likely then that the Afghan saw it as an opportunity to kill a high value enemy target.

I am bringing this up because the reason for him killing the anthropolgist might be more murky than it first appears. As they say war is heck.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 at 4:41:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


Points well-taken. Things are rarely as simple as they seem.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 at 1:30:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


Been thinking about your cmt. Technically combatants must be in uniform and part of an Army. The GC's do not cover civilian contractors to the best of my knowledge. One must be a belligerant and there must be a state of belligerency. The Hague Convention and the GC's did not envision the type of warfare we see today.

The PWOT has twisted all of these distinctions. It's also safe to say that all the people that we brand as enemy combatants are not guided by the rules of land warfare. The entire scenario is a Gordian Knot and neither Bush/Obama wield very sharp swords.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 at 7:22:00 PM GMT-5  

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