Oklahoma native enlisted in the Army and was sent to Iraq shortly after the 2003 invasion. While home on leave, traveled to Canada instead of returning to Iraq. Authored “The Deserter’s Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq” published by Atlantic Monthly Press, January 2007.
The following is from “The Deserter’s Tale: A Tale of War Crimes from the Perspective of a Grunt” by Kenneth J. Theisen, September 20, 2007:
Joshua Key enlisted in the U.S. army and was sent to Iraq shortly after the 2003 invasion. His book which is an account of his life and his seven months in Iraq is well worth reading. It is entitled, “The Deserter’s Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq.”
Key is typical of many who have enlisted in the U.S. military. He was poor in Oklahoma, with a family to support, and with very few resources to support that family. One day he went to an army recruiting office where the recruiter told him he could join up and not worry about being deployed overseas. He could spend his enlistment building bridges and learning a trade in the U.S. He might even get an education at government expense. And like many who bought such BS from their recruiters he ended up being a “grunt” on the ground in a war-torn nation.
After being trained in demolition not construction, Key was deployed to Iraq in the spring of 2003. As part of the 43rd Combat Engineer Company of the Second Squadron, 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment, Key found himself in the midst of a criminal war. He was first assigned to Ramadi, Iraq. He did get an education, but not the one promised by the recruiter.
Nearly every night he was assigned to participate in raids on Iraqi homes. With his expertise in explosives, he would set charges that would blow open the entrances to the homes that were invaded. Although ostensibly he and his fellow troops were after “terrorists” and insurgents, he states in the 200 plus raids he was on, they never discovered any such people. Instead they found ordinary families, usually in bedclothes and only awakened by the explosion.
In these raids, Iraqi males were usually beaten and if over five foot tall, taken away in plastic handcuffs to places like Abu Ghraib for further abuse and torture. Items in the home were either destroyed or stolen by the troops. Key admits that at first he took part in the stealing and abuse. He saw the Iraqis as non-human which was consistent with his basic training where Iraqis were referred to as sand niggers, terrorists, ragheads, and habibs. He was taught to kill the enemy and all Iraqis were seen as the enemy.
But eventually Key began to see the humanity of the “enemy.” One chapter of the book is entitled “The Girl at the Hospital.” He was assigned to guard duty at the children’s hospital in Ramadi. Each day he was visited by an Iraqi girl of about seven. The girl was always dressed in her school uniform and sandals. She would say, “Mister, food” and he would give her his MRE or field rations. She would then run home to feed her family. He was chewed out several times by his Lieutenant for fraternizing with the enemy for giving the girl food.
But each day he looked forward to seeing the little girl who reminded him of his own children. As he said, “Her visits were the best part of my days…” Then one day, “I saw the girl run out of her house, across the street, and toward the fence that stood between us. I reached for my MRE, looked up too see her about ten feet away, and heard the sound of semiautomatic gunfire, and saw her head blow up…The only thing I had heard was the distinctive sound of an M-16…I looked in every direction. The only armed people in the area were my squad mates…it was the sound of my own people’s guns that I heard blazing before the little sister was stopped in her tracks…Her death haunts me to this day.”
But this is not the only atrocity he witnessed. One night while riding in his APC along the Euphrates River he and his squad mates came across the gruesome site of “four decapitated Iraqis in their bloodied white robes lying a few feet from a bullet-ridden pick-up truck…I assumed that someone had used a massive amount of gunfire to behead them.” He then observed an American soldier screaming, “We fucking lost it, we just lost it,” while “Two other soldiers were laughing and kicking the heads of the decapitated Iraqis.” While driving away from this scene the driver of the APC swerved it in order to run over one of the heads.
These are just two of the horrifying incidents described by Key in the book. He also witnessed the murder of a 10 year-old girl and guards being posted outside of a house while U.S. officers entered. The house held several captive Iraqi women inside. Keys described the terrified screams of the Iraqi women. Were they sexually assaulted, tortured, both? The book is filled with such crimes of American forces in Iraq.
Finally Keys had had enough. When he got permission to go home briefly he made the decision to desert in order to stop being a war criminal. He describes in the book how he and his family made it to Canada and were welcomed by anti-war Canadians.