They are the forgotten warriors of the Iraq War, the men whose lives and families and careers blew up in "murder" charges on a vicious battlefield, the pieces coming down in Fort Leavenworth's military prison where the men now serve long sentences. Together, they make up the Leavenworth 10, not always at Leavenworth and not always 10, a group of cold-luck cases still working their way up the ladder of appeals and the clemency process, their families hoping to free them before many more years go by.
They all got bad news recently when word came that the Army Court of Appeals denied Army Ranger 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, 28, a new trial despite the introduction of exculpatory evidence originally withheld by the prosecution. Behenna faces 13 more years of a 15-year sentence for the unpremeditated 2008 "murder" of an insurgent who killed two of his men in post-surge Iraq, an al-Qaida terrorist for whom the Army would issue a kill/capture order before realizing he was already dead.
Why no new trial?
At almost the same time, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Juan Garcia overruled recommendations from the Naval Clemency and Parole Board and from brig officials at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station that Marine Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins, 27, be granted early release. Hutchins has served more than five years on a 15-year sentence that was reduced to 11 years. The sentence was once recommended to be cut to five years, and once thrown out (he spent nine months free starting June 2010). He faces the balance of the 11-year-sentence for conspiracy and unpremeditated "murder" of a man he believed was the killer of Marines and civilians in pre-surge Iraq.
Why no parole?
I put quotation marks of incredulousness around "murder" because this was a war zone -- a chaotic, urban war zone in which counterinsurgency theory (COIN), winning hearts and minds, just didn't go according to the book. Those restrictive rules of engagement (ROEs) failed to impress jihadists or their clans with America's good intentions, and the schizoid mishmash of firepower, nation-building, harsh interrogations, bribery, police work and social work made our forces pawns of an untenable policy. These young men shouldn't be the ones to pay for that policy. We should use this week's one-two punch of "military justice" for some national soul-searching. It's the least we can do for men who risked everything for our country.