Yesterday, The Intercept published the results of a two-year investigation on alleged war crimes and war profiteering of SEAL Team Six in its rapid expansion of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Among the most disturbing details was that SEAL operatives reportedly started taking inspiration from a book lionizing a fictional Nazi.
The Intercept claims that the leadership of several SEAL teams read the book “Devil’s Guard,” a fictional account of an escaped Nazi who goes on the warpath in Vietnam, imagining a campaign of hunting, desecration, revenge and psychological warfare, and that these SEALs apparently took this as inspiration.
According to two senior SEAL Team 6 sources, however, the leadership dynamic in Blue Squadron was a failure. By 2007, the command’s leadership was aware that some Blue Squadron operators were using specialized knives to conduct “skinnings.” Using the excuse of collecting DNA, which required a small piece of skin containing hair follicles, operators were taking large strips of skin from dead enemy fighters. The two leading officers at the command, Moore and Szymanski, were informed that small groups in each of the three squadrons were mutilating and desecrating combatants in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Slabinkski and others in the squadron had fallen under the influence of an obscure war novel, “Devil’s Guard,” published in 1971 by George Robert Elford. The book purported to be a true account of an S.S. officer who with dozens of other soldiers escaped Germany after World War II, joined the French Foreign Legion, and spent years in Vietnam brutalizing the insurgency. The novel, which glorifies Nazi military practices, describes counterinsurgency tactics such as mass slaughter and desecration and other forms of wanton violence as a means of waging psychological warfare against the “savage” Vietnamese.
“These fucking morons read the book ‘The Devil’s Guard’ and believed it,” said one of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders who investigated Slabinski and Blue Squadron. “It’s a work of fiction billed as the Bible, as the truth. In reality, it’s bullshit. But we all see what we want to see.” Slabinski and the Blue Squadron SEALs deployed to Afghanistan were “frustrated, and that book gave them the answers they wanted to see: Terrorize the Taliban and they’d surrender. The truth is that such stuff only galvanizes the enemy.”
While this is a harrowing and honestly depressing look into the mindset behind what SEAL Team 6 is said to have done, the Intercept report is full of other deeply disturbing incidents. On one occasion, one member of SEAL Team Six was said to have mutilated a body just for fun:
I mean, talk about the funny stuff we do. After I shot this dude in the head, there was a guy who had his feet, just his feet, sticking out of some little rut or something over here. I mean, he was dead, but people have got nerves. I shot him about 20 times in the legs, and every time you’d kick him, er, shoot him, he would kick up, you could see his body twitching and all that. It was like a game.
In another incident, one SEAL allegedly tried decapitating a dead body. There were multiple reported instances of what the SEALs called “canoeing,” in which dead enemy combatants had “their skulls split open by a rifle or pistol round at the upper forehead, exposing their brain matter.”
Mutilating the dead is considered a war crime, and in at least one reported instance the desire to mutilate the dead ran overrode explicit orders:
Late that year, the CIA joined operators from Gold Squadron for an operation near Jalalabad. According to a CIA officer with direct knowledge of the incident, the CIA requested that the SEALs capture, rather than kill, their militant targets. During the pre-dawn raid, a small team from Gold Squadron breached a compound that was home to an insurgent cell that had targeted a U.S. base. Inside, they found six militants, four in one room, all sleeping with weapons near their beds. Despite orders to detain the men, the SEALs killed all six. In the room with four of the suspected insurgents, four SEALs counted down and canoed each sleeping man with a shot to the forehead. One of their teammates killed the other two targets in another room. All six were photographed.
SEAL Team Six was also the one on the famous raid that ended in the death of Osama Bin Laden. Despite explicit orders there not to shoot Bin Laden in the face, in order to aid identification of the body, The Intercept reports that Bin Laden’s body was “canoed” as well, and his face was “obliterated.”
Beyond body mutilation, the report also details disturbing accounts of war profiteering and theft, including on high-profile missions. In the aftermath of the mission off the coast of Africa to end the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama (later made into the movie Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks), Navy investigative officials apparently suspected the SEALs of stealing $30,000 in cash that had been stashed in a lifeboat. Other SEALS were reportedly reprimanded and had their careers ended when they revealed sensitive information while doing promotional work for Medal of Honor: Warfighter.
Head on over to the Intercept to read the full report.