In Lone Survivor, a chilling, firsthand account of the loss of eleven members of the Navy’s elite Sea, Air, Land (SEAL) Team and eight Army aviators, Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell describes the fateful decision that led to disaster for him and death for his comrades. It came down to a judgment call about whether to risk prosecution and jail-time for doing whatever it took to complete their mission, or to allow three Afghan goatherds to rat out his unit to the Taliban.
When Luttrell cast the deciding vote to turn loose the farmers who had stumbled upon him and three other SEALs shortly after they had been dropped behind enemy lines to take down a particularly dangerous Taliban leader, he described the thought-process:
“If we kill these guys, we have to be straight about it. Report what we did. We can't sneak around this….Their bodies will be found, the Taliban will use it to the max. They’ll get it in the papers, and the U.S. liberal media will attack us without mercy. We'll almost certainly be charged with murder….”
Such concerns prompted Luttrell to make the call to release the goatherds, setting in train calamity for his buddies and sixteen others dispatched to rescue them from the massive Taliban assault that ensued. It turns out those concerns were well-founded, as was most recently demonstrated in a case before the U.S. Military Court of Appeals. By a 3-2 vote, the judges outrageously determined that an Army Ranger, First Lieutenant Michael Behenna, was deemed to have no right to self-defense when he killed the Iraqi prisoner he was interrogating after the latter threw a concrete block at him and tried to seize his firearm. Unless he is pardoned, Lt. Behenna will remain incarcerated for the next twelve years.
Unfortunately, under President Obama, service personnel’s rising fears of being prosecuted for acting to protect themselves and their missions are but one of many ways in which the military is being, to use his now-infamous turn of phrase, “fundamentally transformed.” Consider a few examples:
Losing wars: Few things can have a more corrosive effect on morale and esprit de corps of the armed forces than being ordered to participate in and sacrifice – not least by risking life and limb – in protracted conflicts, only to have political authorities throw in the towel. Add in the repeated combat tours pulled by many servicemen and women, with all that entails for both them and their families, and you have a formula for disaster for the U.S. military.
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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