Diana West

Recently, I opened an e-mail and read: "I am Sgt. Evan Vela's father. I do no not know if you have followed my son's case but some people have drawn similarities between the Luttrell situation and Evan's."

The father was referring to Marcus Luttrell, whose best-seller "Lone Survivor" tells of four Navy SEALS, Luttrell among them, whose secret mission in Afghanistan was compromised when two Afghan goatherds discovered them hiding deep in Taliban territory. I've written before about the perverse but likely prospect of legal prosecution back home that weighed heavily on the Americans' decision not to save their own lives and their mission by killing the two unarmed Afghans -- a "crime" in PC la-la-land, even when "unarmed" still means deadly. After releasing the Afghans, the SEALS were overwhelmed by the Taliban, and in the ensuing carnage, not only were three of the four Americans killed, but so were 16 more U.S. special forces, shot down in their helicopter by the Taliban during a rescue attempt. In his book, Luttrell has immortalized the battle, which I think of as Death by Rules of Engagement.

The Luttrell story certainly opens like that of Sgt. Evan Vela, who, as part of an elite sniper squad, was in insurgent-controlled territory south of Baghdad last year when the team's "hide" was discovered by an unarmed Iraqi man who made noise and thrashed about after being captured. Did I mention the American soldiers were heat-exhausted and sleep-deprived after three days operating in 120-degree heat?

Instead of letting the man go and, a la Luttrell's team, getting killed by nearby Sunni terrorists, Sgt. Vela's squad leader made the decision Luttrell and his comrades didn't make. He determined the Iraqi man threatened his team's safety, and he ordered Sgt. Vela to kill the man. Sgt. Vela complied. The Americans returned to base alive. And Sgt. Vela is now serving 10 years in prison for murder.

A recent New York Daily News op-ed on the case was called: "American Sniper Hung Out to Dry." That sums up what happened. But why?

This is where pounding outrage over an injustice to an American soldier -- who at least deserves the benefit of the doubt -- turns to a sickening sense that what has gone wrong here is even bigger than Sgt. Vela's personal tragedy. It may well be as big as the entire U.S effort to prevail in Iraq.

Let's go back to the scene of the so-called crime: An area outside Iskandariyah, which as recently as last May was Sunni "Triangle of Death"-central.

And let's go back to the victim of the "crime": Genei Nesir Khudair Al-Jenabi, a member of Babil province's pre-eminent tribe. Come the U.S.-led invasion, the Jenabi, like other Sunnis, joined the Sunni insurgency.


Diana West

Diana West is the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character (St. Martin's Press, 2013), and The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (St. Martin's Press, 2007).