Theodore's World: American Sniper Hung Out To Dry

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April 01, 2008

American Sniper Hung Out To Dry

Evan Vela is serving a 10-year prison sentence - but he may have been acting in the best interest of his country.

American sniper hung out to dry

NY Daily News

On a mountain ridge in Afghanistan in June 2005, on a mission to capture or kill a Taliban commander, the four Navy SEALs were discussing ... the American media. Three shepherds, including a 14-year-old, had crossed their path, and the SEALs had to decide what to do: kill them, or let them go and risk exposure to Taliban forces.

On elevated ground near Iskandariyah, Iraq, two years later, American snipers faced the same dilemma: kill or release two civilians who had discovered their hideout, Genei Nesir Khudair al-Janabi and his 17-year-old son, Mustafa.

The SEALs and snipers, facing stunningly similar situations, would make radically different choices - with radically different results.

In Afghanistan, fearful the media would report the killing of unarmed Afghan farmers and worried they might be charged with murder, the SEALs let the shepherds go. The shepherds then alerted the Taliban, who returned with about 100 warriors.

The four SEALs fought valiantly down the sheer mountain. Three, including Michael Murphy of Patchogue, L.I., died in the firefight.

Meanwhile, the Taliban downed a U.S. rescue helicopter carrying 16 special operations fighters, killing all aboard. Marcus Luttrell, one of the initial four, was the operation's lone survivor, as he recounts in his book of the same name.

In Iraq, the snipers released Mustafa - but their section leader, Staff Sgt. Michael Hensley, considered it too dangerous to release the elder al-Janabi.

Hensley, worried that noise by al-Janabi would attract the possibly armed, military-aged men he said he saw about 100 yards away, ordered Sgt. Evan Vela to shoot al-Janabi. Vela did.

President Bush pinned a Navy Cross on Luttrell in July 2006. Vela was court-martialed. Last month, a military panel found him guilty of murder without premeditation; he has begun serving a 10-year prison sentence.

Americans should be deeply disturbed by the contrast. If Luttrell and his fellow SEALs had done what Vela did, they all probably would be alive today. The media and our military, with the latter quick to charge murder, are impeding the judgment, mission and survival of our fighters.

One of Vela's court-martial prosecutors, Maj. Charles Khufahl, argued, "It was murder, plain and simple. United States soldiers do not kill unarmed, detained individuals." But is it so simple?

The Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits killing an unarmed civilian detainee - unless he represents an imminent threat. But how can we expect a soldier to determine, in a split second, what represents such a threat? Does a civilian who, if released, might bring back armed fighters qualify?

Yes, says the creator of the Navy's counterterrorism SEAL Team Six, retired Cmndr. Richard Marcinko.

"I'd have killed them," he said, referring to the shepherds in Afghanistan. He told me the code is "like the Ten Commandments, short and sweet and subject to interpretation." And rules of engagement vary from theater to theater and according to mission, set by the commander for the overall operation.

Smaller units require more flexible rules because they cannot hold a detainee. Hensley testified at Vela's trial that, under the rules governing them, the snipers were permitted to kill if they felt threatened.

Yet Vela, Hensley and another sniper, Spec. Jorge Sandoval, were charged with murder.

Hensley, who ordered the kill and admitted to placing an AK-47 near al-Janabi's body, was convicted of lesser charges, as was Sandoval. Their light sentences included short prison time or confinement and demotion.

"The strictly correct military decision would ... be to kill them ... because we could not know their intentions," Luttrell writes in his book. But he feared "the liberal media ... and the prospect of many, many years in a U.S. civilian jail alongside murderers and rapists."

Most recruits are highly motivated to defend our country and way of life. They don't sign up to be murderers. The media would have them always give civilians the benefit of the doubt. If only we would extend the same benefit of the doubt to our fighters.

On today's battlefield, facing an enemy without uniforms and children who could be suicide bombers, our military deserves this understanding more than ever.

"The government has chased some of the finest men out of the army" by not supporting them, Vela's father, Curtis Carnahan, told me.

Our military should have told the Iraqi government "that sometimes there are hard choices that have to be made" and that civilians will sometimes be killed, Vela's attorney, James Culp, told me.

At the very least, Vela deserves the same light sentence given to Hensley and Sandoval.

Evan Vela made a wrenching but necessary decision. He is not a murderer.

Wild Thing's comment........

Our military brass makes me sick. They are willing to sacrifice the lives of 19 Americans so two Taliban sympathizers could go on killing Americans. Damned arm chair generals would rather see 20 of their own men die than kill one or two enemy sympathizers.

You can’t fight a PC war and expect to win.

Liberalism hamstrings our military, then liberals complain that their hamstrung military is in a “quagmire” and therefore must withdraw. It’s a crazy, vicious cycle, and it ultimately spells our doom. Hard decisions such as what Hensley made, instructing Vela to kill the unarmed father of a boy the soldiers had just released, are unfortunate. But they are many times necessary.

We MUST not fight a PC war.

We cannot, repeat cannot fight an antiseptic war with restrictions on ruthlessness and expect favorable results and minimization of casualties. The people putting in place these idiotic conditions have never looked at the evil in a foe's soul as he trained his weapon on your upper torso. When it comes to combat, never give your enemy an even chance, never mind a substantial leg up.

Where the hell is our common sense as a people?

From another article that give a lot more detail about Evan Vela:

Iraq's Human Rights Minister attended the trial and made it clear what she expected:

Iraq's Minister of Human Rights, Wijdan Mikhail Salim, however, does not see the case as either a justified kill or a horrific accident by an exhaustion-impaired soldier.
She was attending today's proceedings, she told TIME, because, "I want to be sure that any American soldier who wrongs an Iraqi will go on trial. [Vela] killed an Iraqi man, an unarmed man. He must be punished."

Posted by Wild Thing at April 1, 2008 12:45 AM


He did was he was told and got court martialed and a 10 year prison sentence?
Someone said something against him, obviously, that wasn't true.
We just HAD to appease those terrorist assholes, didn't we?

Posted by: Lynn at April 1, 2008 05:29 AM

Miltary brass is too often politically motivated in their decisions. Their entire careers are political in nature. The many flag officers that are academy grads begin their military career by political appointment to the academy. They learn the art of political maneuvering at the academies and apply it throughout their careers. This weakens them to criticism and like politicians a lot of their decisions are based on how those decisions will appear to others, rather than on whether the decision is right or wrong. The bottom line for most of these officers is protection and advancement of their careers. So, many times, lesser people are literally sacrificed to keep the generals/admirals careers on the politically feasible path.

Now I am going to rag on President Bush. He just pardoned over 100 felons. Most were tax evaders, frauds and drug runners. He could have pardoned some military people and law enforcement officers. Obviously though they were not friends of friends of Bush. Bush is the ultimate authority for sending the military to battle and for putting law enforcement on our borders. He is not as loyal to them as they are to America. Maybe if George W Bush had spent some time as a sniper under fire or a Border Patrolman chasing drug runners instead of spending his Air National Guard time working on senatorial campaigns, he would have a better idea of what drty work was really like and the instant decisions that have to be made.

Posted by: TomR at April 1, 2008 08:25 AM

Same situation, same circumstances. The Seals allow the "civilians" to go and they pay with their lives. The Army shoots one of the "civilians" and they pay with their lives. Oh, the Soldiers may be alive but their lives are ruined.

We must remember, every insurgent or terrorist is a civilian. The only time they are a terrorist or insurgent is that moment they have a weapon or bomb in hand for use against our troops or innocent people. Otherwise, they are civilians going about their daily business.

Posted by: BobF at April 1, 2008 09:19 AM

Tom and Bob have said it so succinctly, Lynn, Bush is one those things being appeased.

Posted by: Jack at April 1, 2008 02:08 PM

Killing an unarmed person is wrong. According to an old code of honor, that is cowardly too.

Posted by: Odin at April 1, 2008 02:53 PM

I supose you want to ask me what our guys should have done? They could have captured them, tied and gaged them until they completed their mission or if that was not possible and secrecy was required for their mission, abandon it. The comander in the field would have to make the decision depending on circumstances. Delibertly killing unarmed civilans should not be an option.

Posted by: Odin at April 1, 2008 04:57 PM

Odin, in the Marines a Scout Sniper team consist of two people and they are on their own usually in enemy territory. Now you have captured two or three enemy civilian, supposedly. In Viet Nam that was no guarntee they were civilians.

Ok so now you have two enemy prisoners now what the mission is already compromised. Because someone somewhere is going to miss the two or three people who didn't come in. And guess what there will be people out looking for them.

In the last couple of wars except where Saddam actually had an Army in uniform, the enemy is all "INNOCENT Civilians" until night then they turn into the VC or a Jihadi and then every damn gook is the enemy.

But you see Odin YOU are the reason that we have such screwy Rules of Engagement and why so many young soldiers are killed trying to distinguish between an 'innocent' civilian and the enemy. It aint that easy to tell and a split second is all you may have to make that decision.

This is a war not a friggin game. There are no programs to give the opponents names and numbers there is in fact no indication at all.

Posted by: Mark at April 1, 2008 06:53 PM

Lynn, yes Churchill even gave a speech about appeasing the enemy. sigh

Posted by: Wild Thing at April 1, 2008 07:58 PM

Tom well said and YES Bush pardoned like crazy and I sure would have given him a different list to pardon. It is exactly like you said, more of his not donig what he should have done big time.

Posted by: Wild Thing at April 1, 2008 08:00 PM

Bob, exactly, the enemy they all are civilians.

Good one.

Posted by: Wild Thing at April 1, 2008 08:02 PM

Jack yes Bush can take the prize for appeasment that's for sure.

Posted by: Wild Thing at April 1, 2008 08:03 PM

Thanks Mark. I might add also that during our tours in La La land we were classified as "guests of the country". Our host then and now provided zero security for their guests from hostile civilians and zero security from their neighborly invaders. The Six O clock crowd in front of their TV's doesn't see the up close and personal attacks or their aftermath, nor the butchery to American servicemen if captured. Remember Matt Maupin was one of their POW's. The uniform of the day is, well look at Muqtada al Sadr, or at any one of those esteemed civilians. I think I mentiond something about that prescious 6th commandment getting Americans killed because we abhor killing, the enemy does not.

Posted by: Jack at April 1, 2008 08:06 PM

Odin, I cannot say anymore then my comment above in the initial post and also what Mark and the others have said.

I don't agree with your why it would and has caused death of our soldiers, and to end a mission because of a so called civilian is for me not an option. The planning involved in a mission is sometimes lengthy and risky too, and many times it does not only involve the immediate solders we have at the spot but hunderds of others of our soldiers in another place. Too many factors to just end a mission so easily.

Posted by: Wild Thing at April 1, 2008 08:11 PM

'(Hensley) ordered Sgt. Evan Vela to shoot al-Janabi.' -- I am refering to this part of the post, which I presume means the elder al-Janabi who, as I understand the post, was still in captivity. Unless they meant the younger al-Janabi, in which case they should never let him go. If you kill them or detain them, they are still missing and some one may come looking for them.

In this particular post the person was already captured and unarmed but killed in captivity. I'm not arguing a hypothetical situation, just this post. To kill a captive is wrong.

I object to trying Vela instead of Hensley in this case. You may give Vela a minor slap for following an illegal order (but I would not). I hold Hensley responsible. This is a clear case of the military leaders protecting their own and shoving it up the lowest ranking man involved.

Posted by: Odin at April 2, 2008 03:33 PM