A complex saga, the events of that day come down to several salient facts. Operating in Al Qaeda-infested territory south of Baghdad, Hensley and his men were discovered in their "hide" by an unarmed Iraqi man, whom they captured. As the man failed to stop moving and making noise, Hensley was very properly concerned that the Iraqi would reveal the Americans' position to nearby insurgents. It seems that he was also very properly concerned that even this overtly hostile action that he deemed dangerous to his men and mission would not impress his superiors as sufficient cause to kill the Iraqi. In other words, Hensley seemed to sense, as I believe, that where our PC-uber-alles military brass are concerned, the lives of American troops are not as important as their own extremely twisted sense of morality: that it is morally better to risk their troops' lives than to risk marring what they perversely conceive of as their own inner purity.
And there was something else, although I doubt Hensley could have been aware of it. This incident took place in May 2007, just as "the surge" was kicking in and just as Sunni insurgents were "awakening." The resulting trial over the incident, conducted in Iraq rather than in the United States as in the case of all other such trials, would ultimately resemble a platter seeking a sacrificial lamb to serve up to "former" insurgents and Iraqi officials alike. As things turned out, Vela became that lamb.
In any case, Hensley concocted a politically correct, brass-pleasing cover story over the course of several phone calls to the command post -- something about the approach of an insurgent armed with an AK-47. He then ordered Evan Vela to kill the man. It was Vela's first "kill."
Long story short: The court martial nightmare our deceased SEALs in Afghanistan feared more than death in battle came true for Hensley and two other members of the squad. Hensley ultimately served 135 days of confinement and the other soldier connected to the case, Jorge Sandoval, served five months in prison. Only Evan Vela, the young Ranger-trained sniper who carried out his superior's battlefield order, was convicted of "murder." Vela, a 25-year-old husband and father of two small children, is now spending his first of 10 Christmases in the military prison at Fort Leavenworth.
This is a grotesque miscarriage of military justice. It is not the only such travesty to come out of Iraq, but I don't know of another case more deserving of a presidential pardon. Fortunately, two Republican lawmakers from Idaho agree. U.S. Senator George Crapo and U.S. Representative Mike Simpson have recently written letters to the president urging him to pardon Evan Vela.
Our 43rd President frequently expresses gratitude to our troops for their willingness to fight for America's freedom as well as the freedom of foreign, even hostile peoples. I can think of no better way to enshrine that gratitude with a presidential pardon to restore the freedom of one of those very troops -- Sgt. Evan Vela.
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