This week's column is indeed a "holiday" column, although celebratory it is not. These are not celebratory times -- despite the robber-baron scale of entertaining going on in Washington as the Obamas find the 140-seat state dining room inadequate for the 400 guests they entertained last night under an elaborate tent constructed on the South Lawn for their first State Dinner.
Actually,"robber-baron" is the wrong term. Robber barons were stuffed with money, which they lavishly spent. What we are seeing today is stimulus-baron entertaining on borrowed money and time.
Still, it is Thanksgiving tomorrow, and with Thanksgiving, Americans give thanks. This column asks that we give pause also, and remember the brave men who answered the call of this country and now languish in prison for doing so. Upsetting? Do something about it. Letters, both to the men themselves and to government and military officials, help (some addresses in links below).
And one correction to column: Happily, one of the men in the "Fort Leavenworth Ten," Raymond Girouard of Sweetwater, TN, was released last month.
During the Thanksgiving season especially, Americans should give thanks to our brave men in uniform, and women, too, fighting in hostile lands under atrocious conditions.
But there's another duty upon us as Americans with a debt of gratitude to our armed forces.
We must recognize and protest the travesties of military justice that have tried, convicted, jailed and denied clemency to all too many brave Americans, the same brave Americans who have fought our wars only to be unfairly charged with "murder" in the war zone.
Readers of this column will recall the crushing conviction of Sgt. Evan Vela, a young Ranger-trained sniper and father of two from Idaho, for executing his superior's 2006 order to kill an Iraqi man who at the time has been compromising his squad's hiding place in the pre-"surge" Sunni triangle. Ten years in Fort Leavenworth, ordered not-so-blind justice. (There is evidence that Evan's harsh sentence was a blatant political offering to Iraq's government.) One reason behind my intense distaste for George W. Bush -- my own personal Bush Derangement Syndrome -- is the former president's callousness toward such Americans as Sgt. Vela, who served their commander in chief well in these difficult times of war. As the Bush administration came to an end, talk of a presidential pardon for Vela leaked to the media, no doubt elating the Vela family, but, cruelly, nothing came of it.
It never does. Evan Vela now has all too many brothers-in-arms at Fort Leavenworth prison where they form what is increasingly known as The Leavenworth Ten: Vela (10 years), Corey Claggett (18 years), William Hunsaker (18 years), Raymond Girouard (10 years) [update: Girouard was released in October], Michael Williams (25 years), Larry Hutchins (11 years), Michael Behenna (20 years), John Hatley (40 years), Joseph Mayo (20 years), Michael Leahy (20 years). Google their names, read their cases and, before recoiling in politically correct shudders into the deeper recesses of the Lazy Boy, try to imagine the particular hell of this war as they and others like them experienced it on our behalf.
If this exercise elicits any pangs amid the general sense of holiday well being, good. Maybe it will help Americans see the urgent need for clemency in these cases. And particularly given the mind-boggling fact that the United States has been granting clemency in Iraq to the most murderous detainees our soldiers were sent to fight in the first place.
I'm not even referring to the thousands of "lower-level" detainees released over the past year or more from U.S.-run prisons in Iraq. (A senior Iraq interior ministry official told AFP that the two suicide bombers and a majority of suspects in the Aug. 19 Baghdad bombings had recently been released from U.S.-run Camp Bucca.) I'm talking about high-level, known killers of Americans in Iraq, such as Laith al-Khazali, who, along with four fellow Iranian-backed operatives, was released in July.
As Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen noted, al-Khazali is a leader of Asaib al-Haq, an Iranian-backed "special group" that in 2007 kidnapped and killed five American soldiers. Later, the group kidnapped five British contractors, three of whom are known dead. Ghazali's release, a U.S. military spokesman told the New York Times, came as "part of a reconciliation effort between the government of Iraq and Asaib al-Haq." How sweet. But, Cullen wondered, if the United States can forgive al-Khazali, why can't the U.S. forgive Larry Hutchins? "So Larry Hutchins, killer of a single Iraqi, sits in prison while Laith al-Khazli, killer of many Americans, enjoys his freedom and his family."
I'm not sure how much "family" such a jihadist "enjoys," but however much it's a courtesy of the U.S. government most merciful -- at least toward Shiite terrorists with American blood on their hands. In September, more than 100 more Iraqi Shiites belonging to al-Ghazali's group were released. Also released this year was Mahmud Farhadi, whom Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal describes as a key Iranian leader in the Ramazan Corps, which, Roggio writes, "is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. soldiers in Iraq."
I don't mean to equate Iraqi and Iranian terrorists with U.S. soldiers. But I do mean to question a government that frees its enemies in a sham of "reconciliation" and leaves its soldiers to rot in a sham of "justice."
And I challenge readers to do the same.