The Fort Bragg murders: a grim warning on the use of the military
The Fort Bragg murders: a grim warning on the use of the military
By Bill Vann
2 August 2002
The murders of four Fort Bragg soldiers' wives in the space of six weeks has
stunned the North Carolina army post and shocked the American public. Fort
Bragg is the home of the elite Special Forces Command. Three of the four
soldiers had recently returned from Afghanistan, where they served with
Special Forces units.
The string of murders began June 11, when Sergeant First Class Rigoberto
Nieves, returned just two days earlier from Special Forces duty in
Afghanistan, fatally shot his wife, Teresa, and then killed himself.
On June 29, just weeks after returning from Afghanistan, another Special
Forces soldier, Master Sergeant William Wright, strangled his wife Jennifer
and buried her in a shallow grave.
Sergeant Cedric Ramon Griffin, a member of an engineering battalion, stabbed
his estranged wife, Marilyn, 50 times and then set her house on fire July 9.
On July 19, the same day that Wright was arrested for murder, Sergeant First
Class Brandon Floyd shot his wife Andrea to death and then turned the gun on
himself, taking his own life. According to the Fayetteville Observer, Floyd
was a member of the super-secret Delta Force, an elite unit specializing in
assassination and covert hit-and-run operations, who had returned from
Afghanistan in October.
In a fifth domestic-related killing involving a member of the Special Forces
at Fort Bragg, police on July 30 arrested the wife of a major for allegedly
shooting him in the head and chest while he slept.
These killings, tragic from an individual standpoint, are all the more
troubling in the context of the government's expanding use of military
forces to carry out policing operations within the US. In the wake of
September 11, the American people have been conditioned to accept the
presence of National Guard troops armed with automatic weapons at airports,
train stations and bridges. Within the ruling elite, any commitment to the
core democratic principle of military subordination to civilian authority
has vastly eroded.
Most ominously, the Bush administration has floated plans to lift existing
restrictions on the use of the military for domestic police functions. These
were laid down in a 124-year-old statute known as the Posse Comatitus Act,
passed at the end of the Reconstruction period that followed the Civil War.
If Bush succeeds in this effort-and there is little reason to believe that
the Democrats in Congress will seriously oppose it-forces such as the Green
Berets could be sent into action on US soil.
Undoubtedly, each of the killings at Fort Bragg involved unique personal
problems and, very likely, pre-existing marital conflicts. But they had one
thing in common: soldiers who were deployed to kill defenseless civilians in
Afghanistan employed the same methods after returning home.
Pentagon spokesmen, who at first dismissed any connection between the
homicidal domestic violence and the Afghan war, now say military internal
investigations will consider the soldiers' experience in Afghanistan as one
possible contributing factor. In point of fact, Special Forces troops in
Afghanistan have been at the center of operations that can only be described
as massacres: the bombing of villages, the slaughter of unarmed prisoners,
the killing of bands of irregular and largely defenseless militiamen.
Some of those closest to the victims have drawn a direct connection between
the killings and the recent combat. "He was like my own child," said Wilma
Watson, describing her son-in-law Master Sergeant Wright. "Until he came
back from Afghanistan, I didn't worry about violence," said Ms. Watson of
the man who killed her daughter. "He was getting these attacks of rage. She
was afraid of him. I begged her to come home. She still loved him."
"I truly in my heart believe that his training was such that if you can't
control it, you kill it," said Penny Flitcraft, the mother of Andrea Floyd,
who was slain by her husband, the Delta Force Sergeant. Her assessment was
backed up by one of the police officials in charge of the investigation into
the murders. "They're trained people," said Sheriff Earl Butler of
Cumberland County, North Carolina. "Their job is to go to Afghanistan to
fight.... I think the nature of their training has a lot to do with these
types of killings."
The stresses of military life-prolonged separations during overseas
deployments and frequent transfers from one post to another, not to mention
the brutalization resulting from training, military discipline and combat
itself-result in an inordinate amount of domestic violence. According to one
1999 report, the rate of incidents of domestic violence in the military rose
to 25.6 per 1,000 soldiers in 1996, from 18.6 in 1990. During the same
period, incidents within the overall population were on the decline. Some
studies have indicated that the rate of domestic violence in the military is
two to five times higher than among civilians.
The murders at Fort Bragg reveal something more than a general tendency
toward domestic abuse within the military. The manager of an Army family
support program at Fort Bragg described the chain of killings as
It is hardly a leap of logic to link this eruption of violence with the kind
of war these troops were waging in Afghanistan and the nature of the
training they received as Special Forces soldiers. Returning US military
personnel have confirmed that from the beginning of the intervention last
fall, it was the Pentagon's policy to bomb villages believed to be harboring
or aiding Al Qaeda and Taliban members in any way. In the main fighting that
took place in eastern Afghanistan, troops were told that all inhabitants
were hostile and should be killed-men, women and children alike.
One well-known Gulf War veteran who tried unsuccessfully to join the Special
Forces described the impact of a similar form of combat, saying it
contributed to his own decision to carry out one of the most horrific crimes
in US history-the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal building.
Timothy McVeigh described himself as "gung-ho" when he was sent into the
1991 US led war against Iraq, but was disillusioned by the slaughter of
virtually defenseless Iraqis in which he participated. A former member of
McVeigh's unit described how it prepared for battle, drilling to the cadence
of "Blood makes the grass grow. Kill! Kill! Kill!"
The training of these forces is aimed at preparing them to carry out actions
that under other circumstances would result in their imprisonment for
murder. They are sent overseas with no political understanding of the real
motives underlying the military actions they are called on to carry out, or
of the country and people they are attacking.
In motivating the troops to fight, military commanders propagate a hollow
patriotism combined with the demonization of the enemy. Behind the
obligatory rhetoric about defending democracy and eradicating terrorism lurk
racism and xenophobia, along with military elitism and extreme
anti-communism-all designed to prepare Special Forces troops to wage war on
Fort Bragg, it should be recalled, figured in the early attacks by the
Republican right on President Bill Clinton. In 1993, Senator Jesse Helms
(Republican of North Carolina) publicly declared that the Democratic
president would be ill advised to come to the army installation without a
strong bodyguard. Helms' extraordinary remark was more a threat than a
warning. The fascist-minded senator was pointedly giving voice to the
extreme hostility within the military to the former anti-Vietnam War
These are the forces upon which the US government increasingly relies
internationally. They are already deployed not only in Afghanistan, but also
throughout the Persian Gulf, in Colombia, the Philippines, several former
Soviet republics, the Balkans and elsewhere on a virtually permanent basis.
Special Forces troops also rotate in and out of scores of other countries
under a program known as Joint Combined Exchange Training, which is designed
to create similar units to be used by the foreign host governments for
There is no doubt that planning is underway at the highest levels of the
state to unleash such forces against the American people as well. Since
September 11, the government has erected what amounts to the institutional
framework for a martial law regime. A secret parallel government has been
created and is already installed in fortified bunkers.
The soon-to-be constituted Homeland Security Department will wield
unprecedented domestic police powers. Included in the agencies to be brought
under its umbrella is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). During
the US interventions in Central America in the 1980s, FEMA drew up a secret
plan known as REX-84 that called for the mass roundup of Central American
immigrants as well as political opponents of US policy and their
incarceration in concentration camps.
The implementation of such plans requires military force. Expressing
frustration over the restrictions on the use of the military for domestic
operations, White House Office of Homeland Security spokesman Gordon
Johndroe declared recently, "We have a situation where we need to deploy
troops, but we have to talk to a lawyer to figure out if we can do it or
The plans to lift the restrictions on domestic use of the military mark a
dangerous step toward martial law in America. Reflected in this turn is the
fear within ruling class circles that the widening chasm between wealth and
poverty and the discrediting of both the government and big business,
compounded by rising unemployment and economic distress, will produce a
movement of opposition from below that spins out of control.
The danger is that the same breed of US military forces who organized the
assassinations of tens of thousands of Vietnamese during Operation Phoenix
in Vietnam; who trained and "advised" the death squads in El Salvador and
Guatemala; and who most recently carried out war crimes in Afghanistan will
be deployed against working people in the US itself.
It is in this sense that the spasm of killings at Fort Bragg must be taken
as a warning. In every country where the military has been called out to
repress the population-from the bloodbath that followed the 1973 CIA backed
coup in Chile to the massacre of unarmed Chinese demonstrators in Tiananmen
Square in 1989-the refrain has always been the same: How could they do this
their own people? The seemingly gratuitous brutality and bloodlust appeared
incomprehensible. But a great deal of effort was expended by the ruling
powers to emotionally and psychologically condition its shock troops to
carry out the most savage and inhuman acts.
The American people are not immune to the worldwide eruption of US
militarism. Torture, death squads and "disappearances" that so many peoples
have suffered at the hands of US backed dictatorships can, indeed, happen
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