About the project
Sitting at his kitchen table in Saginaw, Mich., just past midnight on Veteran's Day 2010, Ken Katter seemed exhausted. The former Army cavalry scout and his wife, Patti, had spent hours detailing the problems they saw in the Warrior Transition Unit of Fort Bragg, N.C., and now the tape recorder was off.
Katter had a lot in common with Carl Prine, the Tribune-Review investigative reporter sitting across from him. Both had been Marines, had volunteered for combat duty as Army soldiers in Iraq in the years after 9/11, and had survived the blasts of improvised explosive devices that insurgents planted.
Katter, a former police officer in nearby Bridgeport Township, Mich., didn't necessarily trust reporters. But he felt he could trust a former Marine grunt. So after Patti quietly left the room, he told Prine about a tragedy that still gave him nightmares: the 2007 shootings of three Iraqi boys in the village of As Sadah. He said he told Fort Bragg investigators what happened, and was mistreated by commanders there for coming forward.
Questions nagged him, he said. What happened to the criminal probe Army investigators conducted in 2009? Who were the boys that a fellow soldier killed? How was all this covered up?
Finding answers would take nearly two years, involving dozens of interviews and multiple requests for official documents. Prine traveled from Fort Bragg to Washington, and then into the heart of Iraq's Diyala Province long after U.S. troops had pulled out, a veteran of the war now unarmed and ducking the insurgents he once hunted.
On Dec. 4, 2011, Prine flew to Erbil, Kurdistan, to make the 450-mile roundtrip to As Sadah, Iraq, where the killings occurred, to interview the dead boys' families and other villagers. He traveled to As Sadah with translator/cameraman Mustafa Fahmi Ahmed of Kirkuk, Iraq. At the village, they met up with another translator/cameraman, Hisham K. Alwan, who traveled from his home in Baghdad.
During the drive to As Sadah and during their time there, Prine and Ahmed suspected that unknown individuals shadowed them. Trib editors monitored Prine's trip by using a GPS locator on the reporter's international phone. He texted his arrival in As Sadah at 4:23 a.m. Pittsburgh time.
Because of the risks involved, Prine and Trib editors agreed he should spend no more than an hour in the village to avoid becoming a potential terrorist target. They planned in advance an alternative return route to Kirkuk and Erbil, to confuse anyone trying to track an American in the unstable region, but he did not use it.
Shortly before 10 a.m. Pittsburgh time, Prine texted his editors that he had returned safely to Erbil.
More disturbing, attempts to reach Sgt. Michael Barbera for comment on Oct. 3, 2011, led to repeated phone calls to Prine's home phone. When his wife, Deanna, answered at 6:12 p.m., a male caller warned her that she and her husband would be harmed if Prine did not “back off” from his reporting.
Prine filed a criminal report about the calls with Northern Regional Police Department in Pine, which later determined the calls came from Barbera's cell phone.
After learning that Barbera was stationed with the Army in Alaska, police turned the case over to the Pittsburgh FBI office. An FBI agent in Anchorage later told the Trib that Pittsburgh agents decided not to pursue the case “because it was a single incident.”
Pittsburgh FBI spokeswoman Kelly Pochamba said agents turned the matter over to the Army Criminal Investigations division at Fort Richardson, Alaska. Army officials there declined comment.
About Carl Prine
Carl Prine, 46, a Marine Corps and Army veteran, is an award-winning investigative reporter for the Tribune-Review.
An Indiana native, he joined the newspaper in 2000 after working as a war correspondent in Africa for The Christian Science Monitor and other publications. He reports regularly for the Trib on military, national security and related matters.
Following the 9/11 attacks, Prine wrote a Trib investigative report, “Think Like A Terrorist,” that exposed security failings at U.S. chemical plants. The CBS News program “60 Minutes” later worked with him to re-examine the issue.
He was one of two Trib reporters who covered the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
In 2005, Prine re-enlisted with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard for a one-year tour of duty in Iraq. He served in the Ramadi-Falluhjah region.
After his return from Iraq, Prine won awards for his investigation into the vulnerabilities of America's 150,000 miles of railroad tracks and the thousands of tanker cars carrying hazardous materials daily.
Last year, Prine won several awards — including the national American Legion's Fourth Amendment Award — for “Wounded Warriors,” a nine-month investigative series that revealed the red tape and inadequacy of care for American soldiers wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq.