Diana West

And come "the surge," or shortly thereafter (just revving up around the Vela incident), the Jenabi, like other Sunnis, began, via "awakening" councils, to join the United States. At least they started getting paid to stop shooting Americans and start shooting Al Qaeda. Not that it was always easy to make the transition. Lt. Col. Robert Balcavage -- who just happens to be the commander of Evan Vela's battalion, and is said by Vela's team leader to have pushed for higher kill rates from snipers -- explained it this way last August to the Washington Post: "The Jenabi tribe, the problem they're having is that the Al Qaeda is them."

So let's review. Evan Vela in May 2007 kills a member of "the Al Qaeda is them" tribe who has compromised his squad, and gets convicted of murder in February 2008 in Baghdad.

Baghdad? It was when I heard the court martial was in Baghdad -- not stateside, like other such trials -- that my initial outrage became the queasy feeling mentioned above, which only intensified on learning that Sgt. Vela's division had actually been ordered back to the United States before the trial began. And the smell of a rat grew stronger still when I read that the Iraqi Minister for Human Rights, Wijdan Salim, attended the trial. "I want to be sure that any American soldier who wrongs an Iraqi will go on trial," Ms. Salim told Time magazine. "(Evan Vela) killed an Iraqi man, an unarmed man. He must be punished."

Well, he was. To the question "why," I can only offer more questions: Is it possible that Evan Vela's Baghdad court martial was all for show? And can his punishment be seen as a sacrificial offering to any of our Iraqi "allies"?

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).