Danger Room What’s Next in National Security
No Jail Time for Army Contractor in Revenge Killing
By Noah Shachtman
May 8, 2009 10:39 am
Don Ayala — the U.S. Army contractor who pleaded guilty to a revenge killing in Afghanistan — won’t be going to prison. Instead, U.S. District Court Judge Claude Hilton sentenced Ayala, a member of the Army’s Human Terrain social science project, to five years probation and a $12,500 fine.
Ayala (pictured, left) began working in Afghanistan in late September, as part of a Human Terrain Team, which embeds cultural advisers in combat units. Originally, the program was conceived as a way to find for commanders nonviolent options for stabilizing chaotic areas: Islamic radio broadcasts to mollify Afghan mullahs, shame tactics to nudge out corrupt Iraqi cops. “In a counterinsurgency, your level of success is inversely proportional to the amount of lethal force that you expend,” lead social scientist Montgomery McFate told Danger Room.
But in a war zone, violence is never far off. Human Terrain teams became involved in several lethal incidents. The latest occurred on November 4th when Ayala was on a foot patrol in the village of Chehel Gazni, with teammate Paula Loyd (pictured, right). Loyd, a social scientist, approached Abdul Salam, who was carrying a fuel jug. He said he had bought it, to fuel up his motorcycle. They started talking about the price of gas. Suddenly, the man doused Lloyd in a flammable liquid and set her on fire, court documents recount.
Engulfed in a ball of flame large enough to force those near her to involuntarily back away, Paula Loyd screamed in agony as the children that had surrounded her ran away. In the several seconds following the attack, no one could get near enough to Ms. Loyd to help her. Panicked, Ms. Loyd ran around briefly before those near her pulled her to the ground. One of the platoon medics tried to put the fire out with dirt, ultimately grabbing Ms. Loyd by her foot and dragging her into the nearby drainage ditch to douse the flames. By the time the fire was extinguished, all of Ms. Loyd’s clothing had been burned off and only her helmet and body armor remained. Medical personnel would later determine that Ms. Loyd suffered second and third- degree burns over more than 60% of her body.
Ayala chased Salam down, tackled him to the ground, and restrained him with plastic cuffs. ”After about 10 minutes,” according to an Army Criminal Investigation Division affidavit, “a soldier approached the location where Ayala had Salam detained and informed the personnel in the area that Loyd was burned badly. Ayala pushed his pistol against Salam’s head and shot Salam, killing him instantly.”
Ayala was taken into custody, and flown to the United States two-and-a-half weeks later. He was charged with murder — the first military contractor to be charged with such a crime under a 2000 law that allows the prosecution of U.S. government workers who commit crimes overseas.
He later pled guilty to manslaughter – a crime, under federal sentencing guidelines, that call for a prison term of 78 to 97 months. Federal prosecutors had said they believed Ayala deserved substantial time in prison, the New Orleans Times-Piquayune observes. Ayala was a former Army Ranger and an experienced military contractor, serving on the security details of both Iraqi prime minister and the Afghan president. He should have known better than to attack someone in custody. If left unpunished, the prosecutors said, it could “erase in the minds of young troops, the “most basic rule” of their military training, “that you do not shoot prisoners.”
“For what he did to Ms. Loyd, Salam probably deserved to die, but not when and as he did. That was not Ayala’s decision to make,” the prosecutors added.
Ayala’s defense lawyers countered that “any term of imprisonment of Mr. Ayala would… further compound a tragedy that began with a violent and incomprehensible attack upon an unarmed, vulnerable American woman who was actively working to improve the lives of all Afghans, including her assailant.” As independent journalist John Stanton notes, the defense then went on to argue that the gruesome attack on Loyd had triggered “dormant combat stress injuries.” That lead to a “perfect storm” of mental duress. Ayala simply wasn’t in control of his own actions, when he shot Salam, the lawyers claimed.
Paula Loyd succumbed to her wounds in January, and became the third Human Terrain researcher to die in nine months. Her family later asked the court to show leniency for Ayala.
Click to view image: 'a59d89b02fd1-ayala_loyd1.jpg'
|Liveleak on Facebook|