Home > Ethics, Leadership, Morality, Toxic Leadership > Toxic Leadership and the Rape/Murder of Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi

Toxic Leadership and the Rape/Murder of Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi

February 2, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

I just received my paperback copy of Blackhearts: One Platoon’s Descent into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death by Jim Frederick.  I made it through the first couple of chapters last night, but what I read was so compelling I had to post it this morning.

This book chronicles the Iraq experience of one platoon of the 1-502nd Infantry Battalion of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division.  You may recall that four members of this unit left their post on March 12, 2006, barged into a local Iraqi house, raped their 14-year-old daughter, then executed the entire family.  Sick stuff. 

I haven’t made it to that part of the story yet.  The author begins by giving the reader the context within which this gruesome crime occurred, including the leadership climate in the battalion.

As it turns out, the battalion commander, LTC Tom Kunk (pictured right), was the textbook definition of a toxic leader.   Among his less admirable qualities:

  • He took any disagreement as a personal challenge and would
    often cut off debate by saying “Trump!  I win, because I’m the battalion commander.
  • He threatened his subordinates with violence, to the point of telling one lieutenant that he would “beat his fucking ass.”
  • Kunk routinely humiliated subordinate commanders, even in front of their men.  (This happened so often that officers in the battalion called it the “Kunk Gun.”  Getting dressed down and humiliated was known as “Getting Kunked.”)
  • Kunk’s toxic leadership began making subordinates indecisive and weak.
  • One lieutenant sums it up this way:

For Tom Kunk, there were two types of people.  There were ‘his boys’ and there were ‘the other people.’  And if you were one of ‘the other people’ it didn’t matter how great your performance was or what you did, he was going to punch you in the balls every chance that he had.  Every time you sat down for a meeting, he was going to embarrass you.

I haven’t got far enough in the book to see how Kunk’s toxic leadership figured into the rape/murder.  However, this may go a little way toward explaining the relief of COL Frank Zachar a few weeks ago.  This episode may have convinced Army leaders that toxic leadership isn’t just a morale and retention killer – it may also set the conditions, directly or indirectly, for the kind of leadership failures that allowed four Soldiers to rape a 14-year-old and murder her and her family.

More to follow…

  1. sookoo
    August 21, 2011 at 8:22 am

    no amount of explaining, analaysis, physchological surgery,apology will ever justify the horrific death of Abeer at the hands of the american terrorists that invaded iraq. REMEMBER MY LAI? your president moved quickly to remove cally from the stockades to live a free and normal life. Americans are MONSTERS

    • August 21, 2011 at 8:35 am

      Certainly there are monsters among us, though two incidents are hardly evidence that the entire country of America are monsters. Name your country…..I’ll name YOUR monsters.

      Thanks for your feedback.

    • Anonymous
      August 26, 2011 at 7:55 pm

      First I will say that I agree that nothing will justify the rape and murder of this child and the murder of her family, but I have to ask you this. Do you really believe your rants and generalizations? Or are you just hoping that your insulting comments inflames anger.

      First of all the soldiers, and I don’t really like to describe them as such, are not terrorists. They are common criminals. A terrorist is a person who uses terrorism in the pursuit of political aims. These four individuals had no political goals. Don’t make them out to be something bigger than what they are. Common rapists and murderers.

      To answer your question… No. I do not remember My Lai, I was only 2 years old then. How old were you? I do know about it, and I grieve for those who were killed, and their survivors who suffered such a tragic, senseless and shocking loss. Such an act is, to me, unthinkable.

      I do know that many, many women and young girls (and boys) are raped in Iraq routinely, by Iraqi men. Americans (and any other citizen of a coalition member nation) cannot be blamed for that.

      I AM an American soldier. I am a devoted husband, a loving father, I have helped repair mosques in Iraq and helped build clinics and schools. Other blame entire nations for the actions of 4 common criminals, what have you done?

  2. Edmund Carrington
    August 31, 2012 at 9:52 am

    Those of us who have served in the British Army have a name for our hilly-billy so-called allies: SEPTICS (as in septic tank = yank)…..befitting in every way.

  3. Anonymous
    December 17, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    The author must have the wrong Thomas Kunk, I’ve served with LTC Kunk and COL Kunk and I wasn’t “one of the boys”. I’ve been in the military over 20 years and its typical for junior officers who are intimidated to blame someone for their shortcomings. I respect everyone’s opinion and he is mine. There is no excuse for what those Soldiers did to those people and to blame that on someone else is typical of those who never put on a uniform.

    • M
      August 30, 2014 at 7:10 am

      Col. Just started working ROTC at my school and I decided to investigate onto him a little bit. I do have to say I am the S6 from where I am from and I most definitely do infact see two different people. For example, we must pass a safety test by law allowing us to fire the rifles and must get a 100% out of 20 questions. To make a long story short I messed three, when I left his office I had a perfect score. The person who took it shortly afterwards missed a single one and was not aloud a retake.

    • D
      May 24, 2018 at 9:33 am

      I was there in Yusifiah and saw LTC Kunk first hand act exactly as described in the book. Total prick who would not hesitate to dress down senior NCOs and the company commander in front of his men.

  4. george
    December 2, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    colonel Kunk is now one of my current JROTC instructor and he behave very different in a school setting it surprise me when I even read this about him.

  1. February 9, 2011 at 10:01 pm
  2. February 28, 2011 at 8:05 pm
  3. March 1, 2011 at 8:10 am
  4. April 10, 2011 at 9:29 am
  5. April 18, 2011 at 9:33 pm

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