This Memorial Day Weekend, Americans remember not only our fallen soldiers, but also soldiers currently 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 the travesties of U.S. military justice that have tried, convicted, jailed and repeatedly 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 order to kill an Iraqi man who, at the time, had been compromising his squad's hiding place in pre-"surge" Iraq. Ten years in Fort Leavenworth, ordered not-so-blind justice. (There is evidence that Evan's harsh sentence was a blatant political sop to Iraq's government.) One reason behind my intense dislike 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. As the Bush administration drew to an end in January 2009, 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. And Evan Vela has all too many brothers-in-arms at Fort Leavenworth prison. There serve Vela (10 years), Michael Behenna (20 years), Corey Claggett (18 years), William Hunsaker (18 years), John Hatley (40 years), Larry Hutchins (11 years), Michael Leahy (20 years), Joseph Mayo (20 years), Michael Williams (25 years). Google their names, read their cases and, before recoiling in PC shudders deeper into the hammock, try to imagine the particular hell of war as they and others like them experienced it on our behalf.
If this exercise dampens the barbecue-season kickoff, 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 released and granted clemency in Iraq to tens of thousands of insurgents, including some of the most dangerous fighters our soldiers were sent to fight in the first place.