tv Campbell Brown CNN November 21, 2009 11:00pm-12:00am EST
get a glimps of the items that were auctioned. the glove had only been expected to sell for about $40,000. wow, went for a ton of cash. i'm don lemon in atlanta. see you back here tomorrow night. have a good night, everyone. i'm anderson cooper. this is a cnn special hour, killings of the canal, the army tapes. what you're about to see is a story that raises difficult questions about what can happen on a battlefield. a story about murder in a combat zone. you're going to meet three decorated army sergeants, seasoned soldiers, patriotic americans who felt they had no other choice but to kill four iraqis they had taken into custody. they shot them execution style. the crime remained a secret until finally someone spoke up. on the army tapes you hear a reluctant confession of what really happened at the canal. abbi bow droe brings us the story. >> the facts behind this crime are pretty straightforward. but the reason these shootings
happened is not. that's what makes this story so complex. the tapes, and our investigation, reveal these soldiers had a serious problem with the army's rules on detainees. and why they believe those rules may have pushed them too far. here, only on cnn, you'll see exactly what happens in the interrogation room. and how the facts would finally emerge. the wife of an american soldier sits in a grassy field in germany. this video and the words on her cards are her weapons.
these are the men she's fighting for. three soldiers. her husband, first sergeant john hatley, sergeant first class joseph mayo, and sergeant michael leahy. though she still calls them heroes, what they did at this west baghdad canal would make them killers. >> i know i shot him. i went like this. i'm not going to say i didn't hit him because i'm not trying to lie. >> you're saying you witnessed people taking those detainees. >> i don't think it actually
killed him. whether it would have later on, i don't know. >> we obtained 23 1/2 hours of army interrogation tapes, tapes you'll only see on cnn. they tell the story of the secret. >> reporter: the confession. >> i'm not a good person, because i murdered someone in iraq. >> reporter: and the fear of it all getting out. >> this is gone na be ugly. because it is. >> reporter: march 2007, one of the most dangerous times in iraq. the surge. u.s. soldiers were under constant attack. it was first sergeant hatley's third combat deployment. now 41, he was the trusted leader of alpha company 118.
he's a veteran of war. while no one remembers the exact date, no one can forget what happened. on this particular day, sergeant first class mayo and sergeant leahy, both now 28, were helping lead the mission. it started off routine, but it turned into a day that still haunts private first class joshua hartson. >> clear sky. no clouds. sun was right on top of everybody. >> reporter: hartson was 19 when he served under first sergeant hatley. that day he says he remembers receiving small arms fire. his platoon went in search of the shooters. that's when they rolled up on this neighborhood in baghdad, and found four iraqi men and a small cache of weapons nearby. what did you find? >> the snap rifles, machine guns, ak-47s, binoculars, night vision binoculars, night vision goggles, duffel bags filled with
ammunition, and a lot. >> did you think these were the men that were firing upon you? >> yes. >> reporter: photos were taken of the four iraqis. but later destroyed. by all accounts, the men were blindfolded, their hands zip tied, and they were loaded into the back of a bradley fighting vehicle. sergeant first class mayo handed hartson his 9 millimeter and told him to guard the detainees. it was just you and them? >> yes. >> and did any of them speak english? >> the one on my right did. >> so did you try talking to him? >> i talked to him. >> what did he say? >> i asked him if he killed americans, made bombs, and he laughed about the questions. >> what did that tell you? >> yeah, he did. apparently it's funny. he enjoys it. >> reporter: according to the army's rules at the time, the detainees were supposed to be dropped off at detainee housing area, or the deha. but that didn't happen. on this day first sergeant hatley had a different plan.
>> my first sergeant comes up to me and pulls me away from everybody. then he asked me if we take him to the detainee facility, that they'll be right back on the streets doing the same thing in a matter of weeks. he asked if we had a problem if we take care of them, and i told him no. >> what did you think he meant by that? >> to kill them. >> how could you be okay with that? >> they were bad guys. if we would have let them go or take them in, we risked the chance of them getting out and killing us, killing other people. >> reporter: hartson remembers one of the iraqis asking him for a cigarette. the men were still in the bradley. blindfolded and zip tied. >> smoke, smoke, smoke. i let them have a couple hits. and after that, hid his hands behind his back. he was holding on to his prayer beads. he kept leaning over saying gift, gift, gift. i said, i can't take them. he kept saying, gift, gift, gift
again. so i took the prayer beads as a gift. >> reporter: moments later the four iraqis were taken out of the truck and lined up at the edge of a canal in west baghdad. it was already dark. the three sergeants, hatley, mayo and leahy pointed their guns at the back of the detainees' heads and within seconds executed each of them. their bodies dumped in the shallow canal, never to be found. >> nobody knows what we've all been through. watching people die. and nobody will ever understand it, unless they've been there with them. >> reporter: there are a total of 13 soldiers on the mission that day. some witnessed the crime. others only heard the shots. yet for nine months all of them
kept quiet about what happened at the canal. but soon that would change. i mean, these men were convicted of premeditated murder. >> yes. >> but you still call them heroes? >> of course. >> reporter: now, new questions about how u.s. soldiers are trained to collect evidence during war. and whether the army's policy drove the soldiers to their breaking point. it's the first thing you see in the morning. and the last thing you see at night. ♪ [ piano ] it stresses you out. ♪ [ pop ] it calms you down. it helps you remember. it helps you forget. it keeps you connected. it's the only thing you own that is always within an arm's reach. which is why you don't need to get a phone. you need a phone that gets you. and you. and you. and we are htc.
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not to mention you're saving a few trees. it's not just international shipping. it's paperless international shipping, a first from ups. there. now you're done. oh, wow. don't you love it? >> i do. it was the most beautiful thing i had seen. and it looked just wonderful on. it's really good to see it again. it's kind of bittersweet. but i know it's going to happen. >> reporter: life is on hold for jamie leahy. >> i will wear it. i'm determined to wear it some day with him.
>> reporter: they were married by a justice of the peace when her husband was between deployments. but she wanted a traditional wedding, the beautiful gown, the big reception, in her grandparents' backyard. >> this is where it's going to be. the ceremony over here, with an arch. we were going to have round tables, just placed all around. >> did you ever have the ceremony and the reception? >> no, we haven't yet. because our plans were in february 2008. so -- but the investigation started in january. >> reporter: her husband, sergeant michael leahy, a purple heart recipient and a medic, was charged with the unthinkable -- premeditated murder. he was one of three army sergeants accused in the execution of four iraqi detainees, and the dumping of their bodies into this canal.
it was a secret he eventually would have to tell his wife. he described that conversation in this army interrogation tape. >> i told her that, i said, honey, i'm going to tell you something. and i understand if you don't forgive me. but i'm not a good person, because i murld erd someone in iraq. i killed someone in iraq. >> did you ever think that your husband was capable of killing like this? >> no, i didn't. that's why i am trying to understand what was going on in his head, what was going on around him, that could bring him to something, a situation like that. >> we've obtained the nearly 900-page investigative case file, as well as 23 1/2 hours of army interrogation videotapes, including tapes we asked for, but the army would not release
to cnn. those tapes show the agonizing confession of a decorated american soldier. sergeant leahy was the only one to confess on tape. >> you shot him in front of you. where was it? >> it was in the back of the head. i guess in the back of the head. >> reporter: leahy admits he fired two shots. but only killed one detainee. so who killed the fourth iraqi? that was the question army investigators were trying to answer. >> put my arm up to the right and i fired again. i'm pretty sure i didn't hit anybody, but i'm not going to say that, because i don't know for sure. i wasn't looking when i shot the second time. >> reporter: the interrogator warns him not to lie. and presses him for a full confession.
>> if you did that, because you know whether or not you did it, no reasonable person is going to believe that you shot, and then your arm went at this angle. if you shot him, just say you shot him. just be honest about it, okay? >> i did follow my arm -- >> i don't doubt that guy fell on him. but if you purposely shot this guy, mike, just say it. you've already shown us what you're made of. i know it's hard, but i know that's what happened, dude. you wouldn't have a question in your mind right now if you didn't know what happened. i know it's hard. >> you're right. >> just tell us what happened. >> yeah, i turned and shot this guy. but i'm not 100% i shot this guy. >> reporter: at this point the army investigator tries to sympathize with leahy, a technique commonly used during interrogations, and it works. >> you're not a killer. you are not a [ bleep ] murderer.
you acted way out of character and shot somebody, something you would have never, ever done. something you'll never do again. and might have never done it without that influence. that's something that's extraordinary in your life. it's something that -- >> i shot the other guy. >> okay. all right. talk to me about what happened, what you remember. >> i shot. the guy did fall. and i did turn. and the other guy was right there in front of me, and i shot again. and that guy -- he didn't -- he didn't die right away. he fell down. and he was still -- i'm not going to say crying, making noises. >> say it. >> i know later on -- i shot that guy in the chest. that's what i know about the situation.
>> reporter: leahy was accusing first sergeant hatley of shooting and killing not just one, but two of the four detainees. >> actually fired two shots. and he shot them. how did you feel about the incident? >> scared. >> reporter: the secret sergeant leahy had kept for nine months was now in the hands of army investigators. he would soon reveal what drove him to murder. and why the army's policy for detaining prisoners wasn't working. jamie leahy remembers when her husband told her about the investigation. >> he was like, are you going to be with me? are you going to stick with me through this? i understand if you don't want to. and then it was kind of like, do you feel the same way about me? and i told him, i feel the same way about you. i don't feel differently, because it's wartime.
and it wasn't like he just ran out on the street and shot somebody, or something like that. >> reporter: but this former soldier says wartime is no excuse. he's the man who tipped off the government to what happened at the canal. breaking the brotherhood, but at what cost. >> i did the right thing. i'm not going to hide behind the false brotherhood. >> i would -- if i were sergeant cunningham -- not be comfortable in a combat environment. >> why do you say that? >> i would have worried that having broken the brother's band of band, something might happen to me.
the murders of four iraqi detainees next to a baghdad canal remained a secret for nine months. and might have stayed that way if it weren't for this man. for the first time, he's talking about why he came forward. >> i feel betrayed. i felt let down. i really felt stabbed in the back. >> reporter: jess cunningham is no longer in the army. the former sergeant is back at home in california. he was at the canal that day in march 2007, but says the murders never should have happened. this is hard for you to talk about. >> i think a lot of soldiers were betrayed. i think the wrong thing was done for someone's ego. and i think that others became followers instead of doing the right thing and taking a good stand and having character and
integrity. >> reporter: only weeks before the incident, alpha company lost two soldiers in combat. staff sergeant sergeant carl and mario guerrero. cunningham said the losses devastated first sergeant john hatley. >> maybe he did snap. i don't know. i believe he knew right from wrong. and i don't have respect for him. >> you don't have respect for him? >> no. i don't. >> reporter: joshua hartson was also at the canal. he feels the decision to kill the iraqis was the right thing to do. he remembers the night of the murders. first sergeant hatley told him the executions were for soto pe ner oh. >> these guys were bad. we take them in. they're back out. more weapons they would gather
up. more people they might kill. so we, i guess, prevented it by taking their lives. >> reporter: hartson and other soldiers, like specialist jonathan shaffer, who's in this interrogation video, say they kept the murders a secret because their sergeants were like family. neither was charged in the crime. >> i'm friends, i'm family with sergeant mayo, first sergeant doc leahy. i mean, those guys are obviously guys i went downrange with. they're my family. that's why i didn't talk about, or i decided not to come forward and say, hey, you know, this is what happened down there. >> reporter: but cunningham did come forward. nine months after the crime when he was facing military discipline for assaulting sergeant leahy and being disrespectful to another officer. he reported the murders at canal to his lawyer. you can see why some people might say, the only reason you
came forward was because you didn't want to get yourself in trouble. you wanted to get out of that situation. >> no, that's not the case. i don't really care what other people think about me. i don't worry, i'm not going to lose any sleep. i did the right thing. >> why didn't you report it right away is this. >> fear. >> fear of what? >> retaliation. fear of being alone. fear of being the only one that had a problem with it. >> reporter: he says he waited to break his silence until he got back to his military base in germany. he was afraid of reporting the crime while he was in iraq, fearing his fellow soldiers would turn on him. >> it was a benefit to have it tried here -- >> reporter: david court is first sergeant hatley's attorney in a small town outside frankfurt. court says cunningham's fears
were warranted. >> if i were sergeant cunningham, not be comfortable in a combat environment. >> why do you say that? >> i'd be worried that having broken the band of brothers' band, something might happen to me. >> reporter: cunningham says he's not surprised by that comment. >> exactly why i didn't come forward. but i did the right thing. and i'm not going to hide behind excuses. i'm not going to hide behind the false brotherhood. >> reporter: cunningham and another sergeant were later charged with conspiracy to commit premeditated murder, but those charges were eventually dropped. based on cunningham's information, the army launched a full investigation considering this case a matter of interest at the highest levels, with the potential for major repercussions. it was a potential pr nightmare for the army. this interrogator worried about
what would happen when the media found out. he talks to one of the soldiers who was not charged in the case. >> this is gonna be ugly. because it is. >> reporter: he brings up abu ghraib, and how the media made that scandal worse than it really was. he feared the same could happen in this case. >> just like them knuckleheads who were stacking them prisoners at abu ghraib. we walk down the streets and that's a shame we all carry. i had nothing to do with that. i don't know about you, but i wasn't at abu ghraib. but haflg the time i'm walking down the streets, people are looking at us, those damn americans that abused those poor prisoners. [ bleep ] frat boys in college and that crap. it's what the media made of it. what the hell do you think they're going to make of this? >> reporter: investigators questioned all 13 soldiers who were there that day. most gave permission to be videotaped. those tapes reveal not only a reason for the murders, but also
why soldiers felt the army's rules protected the enemy more than them. making it increasingly difficult to lock up detainees. >> it seems like even if you do your job, they take the detainees and they come right back. they're the same [ bleep ] guys. >> reporter: and why some argue the army is simply asking too much. >> they're asking them to be soldiers, and to be cops. but they're just trained to be soldiers. if you're taking 8 extra-strength tylenol... a day on the days that you have arthritis pain, you could end up taking 4 times the number... of pills compared to aleve. choose aleve and you could start taking fewer pills. just 2 aleve have the strength... to relieve arthritis pain all day.
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sketched the crime scene. it shows the canal and the iraqis lined up next to it. first sergeant john hatley was the focus of the investigation. soldiers say it was his idea to kill the men, since he believed the rules for holding dints were not working. he feared the four iraqis that his soldiers just captured would be let go, free to attack another day. this 2005 memo marked "draft" imposed detailed standards for evidence soldiers needed before suspected insurgents could be detained. failure to follow these re lagss may result in acquittal or premature release of detainees, according to the document. written after the scandal at abu ghraib prison and these embarrassing photos were made public. the memo was meant to tighten standards for detaining prisoners. >> how are you doing?
any kind of problems? >> reporter: brigadier general david quontok who now oversees detainee operations said the document was operational policy from 2005 through 2008. >> before the memo was written, a person could just bring a detainee to our facility and we would take them in. with little or nothing. >> reporter: soldiers could no longer detain suspected insurgents because they were merely seen as a threat. there now had to be proof. photographs of physical evidence, photographs of the detainee at the crime scene, and photos of the detainee next to the evidence. physical evidence of the crime, such as illegal rifles, or ied making materials were also needed, along with a sketch of the crime scene, indicating the place of capture and the location of weapons, explosives or munitions. and the most difficult requirement was for statements written by firsthand witnesses to the criminal activity.
the new requirements made a soldier's difficult job even more difficult. you've said yourself, general, that there were many military operations where the focus was not on evidence gathering. so what happened in those cases? >> well, in most cases, if we don't have anything, eventually they're released. >> reporter: more than 87,000 detainees were captured during the war in iraq. quauntock, nearly 77,000 were released due to lack of evidence, despite the high release rate he says soldiers were perfectly capable of gathering evidence. >> we're asking them to take basic evidence, which they had been trained to do. again, we've got the greatest soldiers in the world. and i don't accept that they can't take basic evidence off of a crime scene. >> general, though, if it's so easy to collect this basic type of evidence, then why were so
many detainees let out because of lack of evidence? >> well, i mean, it took us a while. it took us a while to realize. it goes back to my point about, we were trying to make the fight fit the army as opposed to have the army fit the fight. i think a lot of times we thought the insurgency would dissipate. we were trying to improve the iraqi security forces. at the end of the day it didn't work out very well. we had to get better at taking evidence off the crime scene. >> they're asking them to be soldiers and to be cops. but they're just trained to be soldiers. >> reporter: we met sergeant leahy's attorney, frank spinner, in colorado springs. his work defending accused war criminals takes him all over the world. >> as it was, they had to take off their soldier helmet, put on their cop hat, take them to a civilian sort of police station, and show evidence that these were people that were shooting at them. and if there wasn't enough evidence, then they were going to be released on the street.
but soldiers aren't trained to be cops and they're not trained to collect evidence and they're not trained in the ways of civilian criminal prosecutions. >> reporter: a point even general quauntock admits. we've talked to many soldiers who safe the only kind of training they would get would be a 15-minute power point presentation back in the states before they would go out on a battlefield. >> yeah, that's exactly right. we don't give them extensive training. we're not trying to teach policemen. but we're trying to teach them enough, whether it's eyewitness statements, whether it's taking photographs, all of those can be used in a trial. however, we've got to catch somebody doing something wrong. we've got to find evidence. >> reporter: according to general quauntock was to secure criminal conviction in the iraqi war system.
but the investigation into the killings of the four iraqi men, the u.s. soldiers made it clear it wasn't working that way. >> it seems like even if you do your job and take these guys, they just come right back. the same guys keep shooting at you. >> reporter: and in the field the rules could be even stricter. in this document obtained by cnn, an army intelligence officer attached to alpha company said statements from u.s. service members were not accepted as proof of insurgent activity. and that the detention facility required at least two witness statements from iraqis. general quauntock told us iraqi witnesses were preferred but not required. with all due respect, general, what is the point of having soldiers in iraq fighting this type of war if they can't take alleged insurgents off the street? >> well, we've -- i mean, as we look at iraq, we look at iraq as a long-term strategic partner of
the united states. the sacrifice is well worth it. what we're trying to do is build capacity and capability for not only the iraqi forces, the police uks the iraqi army, but also stand up the rule of law. >> reporter: the rules got even tougher this year. a security agreement with the government of iraq now requires an arrest warrant signed by an iraqi judge to detain someone. michael waddington represents joseph mayo, one of the three sergeants who shot a detainee. would you be surprised if other soldiers have done the same things that these three soldiers did when they pulled the trigger? >> that wouldn't surprise me at all. soldiers will do what they have to do to stay alive following the law. but if the law and rules don't protect them, then soldiers will do what they have to do to make sure they come back alive and their buddies come back alive. >> reporter: but did the frustration lead to murder? >> it your husband reach a
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some medicines that are used to treat heartburn or stomach ulcers, like prilosec, may affect how plavix works, so tell your doctor if you are taking other medicines. if fever, unexplained weakness or confusion develops, tell your doctor promptly. these may be signs of ttp, a rare, but potentially life-threatening condition, reported sometimes less than 2 weeks after starting plavix. other rare but serious side effects may occur. with four iraqis murdered, and three u.s. soldiers blamed, including first sergeant john hatley, his wife, kim, felt she had to do something. she came up with a video, and
these handwritten cards. in this field near her home in germany, where her husband was based, she silently told her story. she very simply just wrote words on these cards to express what happened, and how she was feeling. this one's interesting, to free these three american heroes. i mean, these men were convicted of premeditated murder. >> yes. >> but you still call them heroes. >> of course. they served their country. and thankful they're alive. and so do the family members. but in life, with any challenge, you can't just look at one incident. that does not define who these soldiers are. >> reporter: kim's husband was accused of coming up with the plan to kill the detainees. >> a decision was made, we're
gonna take these -- >> reporter: on this interrogation tape, the investigator tells hatley he already knows what happened at the canal. >> good concept. good concept. bad execution. and, you know, i'd like to make this right. because if not, we're gonna have a couple dozen [ bleep ] and we're probably going to have the united states army and united states of america over this. >> reporter: the investigator informs hatley the secret is out. and it's bound to get worse. >> we've got a hell of a lot of pretty damn concerned high-level people way hell above my pay grade that are grabbing their ankles and bracing for what's bound to be an ugly damn mess if this becomes a big drownout, public knife fight. >> reporter: hatley would eventually ask for a lawyer, and that would end this session. he left no clues as to why he pulled the trigger that day.
this video was shot during hatley's four-day trial. you can barely make him out, but that's john and kim hatley walking into court. move away for respect to them. >> reporter: soldiers shield him from our camera. they form a barricade. once again, protecting their leader. all three soldiers were convicted of premeditated murder, and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder. in this military courtroom in germany. they're all prisoners at fort leavenworth in kansas. two other soldiers were sent to prison but are now free. joshua hartson confronted our camera crew. he was one of the last soldiers to see the four detainees alive. he says first sergeant hatley was a father figure. and to this day, he feels the right decision was made at the canal.
this is premeditated murder. when you hear those words, and you know that you had a role, what are you thinking? >> why am i not in prison with them. >> should you be? >> i would love to say no, but, yeah. >> reporter: hartson, along with most of the other soldiers at the canal, were disciplined by the army and received immunity for their testimony. >> get it. >> reporter: hartson left the army after a serious injury. >> eight years -- >> reporter: kim hatley says she doesn't believe any of the soldiers should be in prison. did your husband reach his breaking point? >> that's a possibility. >> do you think he did? >> i'm not sure. i'm not sure. i know that he was tired. he actually told me that he was tired multiple times. quite a few medals on there.
>> reporter: kim says her husband never told her why he came up with the idea to kill the four detainees. but these documents may provide some insight. they summarize an interview with an intelligence officer attached to alpha company. the intelligence officer states hatley and his soldiers once captured a suspected bomb maker. they found electronic parts made to use explosives at his house. but the detainee claimed he was an electronics repairman and was let go. hatley and the other soldiers were then forced to bring him back to his house, "giving him a letter of apology and a fistful of cash for his troubles. "i'm the intelligence officer states in his opinion, even a reasonable person will "do what they need to do to ensure the survival of the unit." we asked brigadier general david
quauntock about the killing at the canal. do you think the policy is so flawed that this could happen? >> there are rules of war and those soldiers knew those. there's never an excuse to execute anyone. now, they become judge, jury and executioner. and that's not the way we do things in the united states. that's not the way they were trained. and that's not the way we do things in our army. >> reporter: but the wives of these soldiers say the army let them down. >> he's been punished enough. he definitely wants to get out of there. he doesn't think he belongs there either. doesn't deserve to be there. >> reporter: in a moment, from inside the concrete walls at fort leavenworth, finally, first sergeant hatley's side of the story.
joanna mayo doesn't feel that her husband, sergeant first class joseph mayo, betrayed anybody when he shot one of the iraqis in the back of the head next to a baghdad canal. >> i knew he was on trial for murdering the iraqi detainees that they had captured. >> it was hard for you to say the word "murder." >> yeah. that's not the word i want to use. i just can't think of -- >> you don't look at your husband like a murderer? >> no. no, not at all.
>> reporter: she says her husband was a good soldier. he was awarded the purple heart after an i.e.d. exploded, resulting in a brain injury. his doctor told her he still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and memory loss. it was his third combat deployment. >> i think that he's given and sacrificed a lot. i think he's -- he's a war hero. he's not criminal. >> reporter: the mayos have been married for nine years. they have three children. the oldest is 11 years old. >> who's that? dada? >> reporter: their youngest is only 15 months. then their 6-year-old joseph. just from watching him play, you can't tell anything is wrong. but he suffers from congenital scoliosis that will soon require surgery. and johana mayo, legally blind,
cannot drive. she can barely make out her husband's letters. how are you doing? i miss you guys so much. i'm doing good, just thinking about you three all the time. >> he was the one that drove the kids around. he was the one that took care of their homework and anything. grocery shopping, everything. i relied on him for everything. and now i feel like i have to turn to my daughter a lot, and she's only 11. >> reporter: the incident at the canal that day changed this family. >> are you angry at all at your husband for him making that decision? >> no. not at all. knowing how my husband felt about those soldiers, about -- those soldiers were his family. and knowing that what he did was to protect his family, it doesn't make me angry at all.
>> reporter: these military wives are used to their husbands not being home. but this, they say, is different. once decorated heroes, their husbands are now convicted war criminals. sergeant first class mayo pleaded guilty to the murder charges. the other two sergeants were convicted at trial. kim hatly, the wife of first sergeant john hatley, says she refuses to let herself cry even in private because she needs to be strong for her husband and her 19-year-old son, who's now fighting in afghanistan. >> some people might call your husband a murderer. what do you call him? >> i call him a good man. >> reporter: she has no reason to stay in germany any longer. she's packing up her life and moving to texas, her husband's home state. >> okay. here's a card for you too. >> oh, thanks. >> sure. >> reporter: jamie leahy, the
wife of sergeant michael leahy, works at her mom's beauty salon. it was never part of the plan. but it keeps her mind occupied. >> is it upsetting when people hear about what happened in your husband's case and they look at him and they think monster? >> it does. because it makes me feel like you don't know who you're talking about at all. it's like he's a person. he's a son. he's my husband. >> reporter: and johana mayo, the wife of sergeant first class joseph mayo, struggles to hold her family together. >> do you believe you'll get through this? >> yes. i know we will. it's just -- it's just, you know, it's hard right now. but we'll get through it. >> reporter: three wives now waging a battle of their own. they want their husbands home, but they have a long wait. cnn requested interviews with each of the three soldiers, but army policy prohibits media interviews with prisoners.
yet this man was given rare access. we met up with him outside the gates at fort leavenworth moments after he spoke with two of the soldiers. stepn mestrovic is a sociology professor and has written books about war crimes. he also consulted with the defense on the leahy and mayo cases, which allowed him inside the prison. >> i mean, they're afraid that people look at them and say, you know, monsters. i know they are not. they have no prior records. they love their families. what michael leahy told me was very bluntly, he said you know, if they let me out tomorrow, he said i'd never go out and do any crime. i'd never done any before. this is what people don't understand, is we're different people over there. it's iraq. >> reporter: mestrovic says both leahy and mayo have lost weight and have a hard time sleeping. >> do you think from your conversation with them that they care about what americans think about them? >> they care a lot, yes. because you've got to remember, in their minds they're patriotic. in fact, one of them said to me
they feel like the army misused their patriotism. they feel betrayed by the army. >> reporter: mestrovic did not meet with hatley, but now we hear from him for the first time from inside fort leavenworth. hatley explains the difficulties of evidence collection in a war zone in this letter to cnn. he writes, "the guidelines established for detaining and prosecuting the enemy has extensive flaws." hatley says that he would capture the enemy but then be forced to release them "two to three days later" because of lack of evidence or because the weapons or explosives found on the individuals were not found in the same portion of the house that the insurgents were found in. he says he repeatedly found himself fighting the same enemy again and again. "i assure you," he writes, "the military spared no expense in the prosecution of my soldiers and me. if they would have spent half the time, effort, and money in
prosecuting the enemy as they had in prosecuting us, i assure you we would have never found ourselves in our current situation." lawyers say it could take years for the appeals process to be completed. but the one outstanding question, of course, is for soldiers on the battlefield could this happen again? >> abby, thanks very much. thanks for watching this cnn special investigations unit hour, "killings at the hour, "killings at the canal: the army tapes." -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com