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), 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.
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