“Civilian Contractor” Pleads Guilty to Voluntary Manslaughter of Afghan Detainee

More news on the trial of a mercenary who committed a war crime in Afghanistan, while working for the Human Terrain System:

Press release from the United States Attorneys’ Office, Eastern District of Virginia:

03 February 2009

From:

Peter Carr
Public Information Officer
Phone (703) 842-4050 Fax: (703) 299-2584
Email: usavae.press@usdoj.gov
Web Address: www.usdoj.gov/usao/vae

Civilian Contractor Pleads Guilty to Voluntary Manslaughter of Afghan Detainee

(Alexandria, Virginia) – Don Michael Ayala, a civilian contractor stationed in Afghanistan, pleaded guilty today to voluntary manslaughter in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, in the death of Abdul Salam while on patrol in Chehel Gazi, Afghanistan, on November 4, 2008. According to court documents, Salam had doused Ayala’s civilian contractor teammate, Ms. Paula Loyd, with gasoline, ignited it and fled in the direction of Ayala and several U.S. soldiers. Ayala and the soldiers tackled Salam and restrained him. Minutes later, when Ayala was informed of Ms. Loyd’s condition and while Salam was still restrained, Ayala fired a single round in to Salam’s head, killing him instantly. The maximum sentence Ayala could receive is 15 years.

Ms. Loyd, 36, suffered second- and third-degree burns over 60 percent of her body and was subsequently evacuated to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, where she died from her injuries on January 7, 2009.

U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton set a sentencing date of May 8, 2009. Dana J. Boente, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Rita M. Glavin, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, made the announcement.

This case is being investigated by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Michael E. Rich, Special Assistant United States Attorney Zachary Richter and former Domestic Security Section Trial Attorney Christopher Graveline.

•••••••

THE STATEMENT OF FACTS in the case against Ayala by the U.S. Government.

•••••••

Contradictions and Questions

According to at least some definitions, “voluntary manslaughter” involves a notion of killing committed as an “act of passion,” where there was no prior intent to kill, and that the circumstances of the killing were of a kind that would cause a reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed (source, source). As someone without legal training, there is a limit to what I can understand and interpret about how this can be deemed as applicable in this case.

First, any mercenary goes into a war zone with an intent to kill, so that is locked in from the start.

Second, if the attack on Paula Loyd was what caused Ayala to become emotionally or mentally disturbed, like a reasonable person, then what does that say about the rest of the team and the soldiers who were present? To say that “anyone would have acted like Ayala under the same circumstances,” does not explain why it was only Ayala who acted in that manner.

Third, the Human Terrain System’s own “In memoriam” page for Paula Loyd, casts Ayala’s state of mind in doubt — he could not possibly have been as agitated as his plea would suggest. The HTS website claims the following: “Her [Paula Loyd’s] teammate, who was standing close by, immediately submerged her in a stream, extinguishing the flames. After the flames were out, Paula (with remarkable courage and aplomb) looked at her hands and said, ‘Gee, these look bad. Do you think I’ll be able to finish my report?’.” Loyd was immediately submerged in a stream — she could not have suffered wounds to the extent that we all know she suffered, but which nonetheless HTS suggests must have been far less severe. Loyd was also in fairly good shape, she could speak, and she even joked about the matter — or at least so her employers claim. If Loyd seemed to be less than agitated, why was Ayala instead driven hysterically mad?

Fourth, why was Ayala not handed over to Afghan authorities to be tried in Afghanistan, for a crime against a national, on Afghan soil?

By accepting Ayala’s plea bargain, and proceeding to sentencing, the court has made no room for such basic questions to even be aired. They are null and void. What “justice” there can be without even a semi-adequate discussion of these and others questions, is something that is up in the air. More down to earth, one fact remains: cowboy justice has prevailed. In this, there is nothing new, nothing surprising.

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14 thoughts on ““Civilian Contractor” Pleads Guilty to Voluntary Manslaughter of Afghan Detainee

  1. Issues;

    1. “First, any mercenary goes into a war zone with an intent to kill, so that is locked in from the start.”

    The man was a translator, his mission was as such, not to kill. Your statement is a complete straw man.

    2. ” She could not have suffered wounds to the extent that we all know she suffered”.

    Your statement not only contradicts itself, but demonstrates in its context that you have made no effort to think about the circumstances. She received burns over 60 percent of her body, from which she has since died. Her statements could easily be explained by shock.

    If you can watch a human being go up in flames and smell the flesh burning, if you can do that and not have an adverse emotional reaction to it, then your mind and your heart are made of rock.

  2. If your last comment is about how Ayala reacted…then explain why no one else there reacted that way. Was everyone else on the team cold and indifferent? Again, the logic makes no sense. Worse yet, as some make Ayala out to be some hero for the way he acted…it also casts his teammates as somewhat less-than-heroic at the same time. Nice touch.

    Re #2: My statement does not contradict itself in the least. It points out the contradictions in the official story. You think her statements can be explained by shock (ok, so not “courage and aplomb” then, point that out to HTS, not to me). I am amazed that she was in the position to speak at all. I don’t want to indulge gory detail, but if her head was a part of her body that was set on fire, speech would be nearly impossible, not to mention vision. Even if that was not the case, there was no escaping serious injury to the face, to the eyes, etc. After weeks of intensive treatment, she was said to be only “sometimes responsive” in hospital, according to the HTS website, which is another way of saying she could not talk.

    As for reacting to the “smell of burning flesh”…well my question is simple: What smell? HTS says the flames were extinguished immediately. Not my words, but theirs. Address yourself to them.

    Re #1: Ayala was a translator? This is the first I ever heard of this. It is not in the affidavit, nor was that mentioned by any of the news sources that reported on this. What is your source for that?

  3. P.S.: Having alleged that he was a translator, Pat, it is now incumbent on you to furnish evidence for that. Otherwise if you go silent on this issue, I and other readers will have to take that to mean that the allegation is baseless, and that he was indeed a mercenary, which is the role in which he performed in Afghanistan prior to 2008.

    Straw man? Straw men don’t kill.

  4. It seems that settles it then, nowhere is it documented that Ayala was “translator,” not even in the recent statement of facts issued by the U.S. Government:

    https://www.box.net/shared/apr9jblhab

    It appears that, either by design or by accident, “details” concerning the stories produced are either invented or obscured as we go along. However, simply asking questions is what we find is much more rare. I find it very difficult to believe that I am the only one who is asking some very basic questions that are being addressed nowhere. Indeed, it seems that some resent the mere asking of questions — they possibly interfere with their preferred dogma, or their warmest myths.

  5. First, any mercenary goes into a war zone with an intent to kill, so that is locked in from the start.

    This is a blatantly misleading statement; he was part of a “Security Detail” so that implies a defensive role not an offensive one (shame on you). He had no prior intent to kill this person so don’t act like he was there to indiscriminately murder people.
    Our government had no business wasting taxpayer dollars taking this case to trial, had it even gone to trial in Afghanistan they would most likely written it off as an honor killing.

  6. From “translator” to member of a “security detail” — this is more realistic sounding than the previous commenter’s version. You are right: I do not merely repeat official jargon without question. A defensive role, in an offensive situation as part of the invading side in a war of occupation and counterinsurgency…for me means offensive. I suspect it meant “offensive” for Salam as well. If he went to Afghanistan for the purpose of being armed and ready to kill, that is sufficient as intent to kill — but you are right once more, not the intent to kill this specific person, and that is all lawyers would care about (now shame on you).

    Are you an expert on Afghan law? An honour killing? Really. So now Salam was Ayala’s bride, or daughter. This is an amazing cast of characters: the same three individuals (Loyd, Ayala, Salam) reappear on stage in about 30 different roles. The point is, it is not our place to merely assume what an Afghan court would have done, and I mean one operating without US interference (if there is one, and I doubt it), especially if neither of us is well versed in Afghan law. The fact of the matter is that this was a war crime by all international legal standards, and this Ayala went out on bail and got some jokey plea bargain.

    You should be concerned about impressing Afghans with your devotion to justice, the rule of law, and high moral standards befitting an advanced civilization. I am sure you would want to look at yourself this way. Instead what we see is a war machine with kangaroo courts for enemies, and easy passes for its own criminals. Rest assured, it’s what Afghans see as well, which is another reason why you will lose in Afghanistan and pay a very high price in doing so.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  7. “The point is, it is not our place to merely assume what an Afghan court would have done, and I mean one operating without US interference (if there is one, and I doubt it), especially if neither of us is well versed in Afghan law. The fact of the matter is that this was a war crime by all international legal standards, and this Ayala went out on bail and got some jokey plea bargain.
    You should be concerned about impressing Afghans with your devotion to justice, the rule of law, and high moral standards befitting an advanced civilization. I am sure you would want to look at yourself this way. “

    I get what you are saying, but in this particular case what happened to Salam is what the local Chief would have done (minus some torture).

    “Instead what we see is a war machine with kangaroo courts for enemies and easy passes for its own criminals. Rest assured, it’s what Afghans see as well,”

    You see that, most locals see a lack of Taliban presence. So as long as we stay involved in improving their lives, not accidentally killing civilians with misguided munitions and preventing the murders of their village leaders we will have success.

    Btw what about Captain Robert Semrau?

  8. I am not familiar with the name, Robert Semrau. Who is he, and where does he fit in here?

    I don’t know what the local chief would have done. I very much doubt he would have killed a Taliban member, without incurring wrath on his village.

    It seems that the Taliban is very much present, getting closer to Kabul too, by all accounts. Similarly, and by most accounts I have read, NATO is frustrated that it cannot hold territory.

  9. I see, I just checked on the name, and I really should have been familiar with it. He is a Canadian officer, and his name comes up in connection with a trial he is to undergo for murdering an injured insurgent in Afghanistan. I knew about the case, but the name itself did not ring a bell. I have not heard of this in a few weeks here, I will check to see what else I missed.

    The two cases bear some similarities, that was my first reaction when I heard of this back in December (if I remember correctly). Thanks for reminding me!

  10. If Mr.Ayala had intentions of killing Mr. Sallam,Than why did it take a cowardly act of terrorism (admittedly) by Sallam to provoke his death. Why also does Mr. Ayala’s team need to come under question? Has not Don Ayala confessed to and will be sentenced to Manslaughter under the jurisdiction of the United States Government,your employer? Did not a death occur from this heinous act or did Miss Lloyd return to her family? Security was the job provided by Mr. Ayala’s team and having experienced the failure of said team, with no prior intent to kill, an act of passion also occured. Double jeapordy does not exist, thankfully in our United States of America. The court will speak and so we will abide. End of story .

  11. Yes Stephen but I believe you missed my point and did not follow the conversation so far. I did not claim that Ayala had any intention of specifically killing Salam. As for cowardly acts of terrorism…what do you call the high altitude bombing of civilian areas?

    Ayala has confessed to a minimal charge. It would not go so well if he had been properly tried as a war criminal. Why he is tried in the U.S. for a crime committed in Afghanistan is purely a result of the power of the U.S.

    What a passionate fellow, this Ayala. You would think someone with his training and experience would have become quite stony in the face of death. One has to wonder how many other times he has been a victim of his passions.

    End of your story, but not mine.

  12. Mr. Forte, you are right in stating that this incident would not have happened if we had not launched this “sociological” project within a foreign country. I do suggest, however, that your original blog would have been less controversial had you used the word “execute” rather than “murder”. Salam’s crime was obviously premeditated and Ayala’s was clearly “an eye for an eye” since Ms. Lloyd ultimately died. Frontier justice has no place in modern society. But war, with its’ attendant brutality, can cause reasonable people to act irresponsibly.

  13. Yes, I agree. I did in fact use the word “execute” as well as “murder,” alternating between them in different posts. For example, here I use the term “execute.”

    In another post, along the same lines as what you say, I wrote:

    “I can certainly understand the irrational rage that would have overcome Ayala having seen his colleague set on fire. I can certainly understand the rage of the Afghan who set Paula Loyd on fire. While the latter appears to have been a premeditated attack (possibly by a child if one believes Taliban claims), I doubt that Ayala engaged in cold-blooded calculation, although there appears to now be reason to believe that. Ayala was clearly wrong to act, and the soldiers that presumably were in the company of this Human Terrain Team were wrong not to stop him.”

    For me the two words are perfect synonyms. Checking any thesaurus confirms that in our language the two terms are in fact synonymous. The choice becomes controversial, however, mostly when it is read by an audience in a country where executions have been legalized, whereas in Canada we have no death penalty. In that context, some might be led by their culture and their legal environment to view “execution” as more acceptable than “murder.” To me, that can never be the case, and if it were, it would apply equally to Salam. Indeed, I would have argued that your last sentence can also apply to Salam, except for the fact that it would suggest there is a “reasonable” way to resist foreign occupation “responsibly” — one might make such an argument, we just won’t be the only ones who get to speak as Afghans will want a say in that too. In my view, war is “reasonable” people acting irresponsibly.

    More generally, I do not understand the view held by others that they should be allowed to freely go to war, and that everything should be comfortable for them, and they should not die. It’s as if reason had been executed from the very start.

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