Jor­da­nian gets life for killing U.S. troops

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - REEM SAAD AND OMAR AK­OUR

AMMAN, Jor­dan — A Jor­da­nian sol­dier was sen­tenced Mon­day to life in prison af­ter be­ing con­victed of killing three U.S. mil­i­tary train­ers last year, but some said ques­tions lin­gered about his mo­tive for the shoot­ing at a Jor­da­nian air base.

Jor­dan has ruled out ter­ror­ism in the Novem­ber shoot­ing in which the con­voy of the U.S. Army Green Berets came un­der fire at the base en­trance.

The de­fen­dant has said he felt no an­i­mos­ity to­ward Amer­i­cans and opened fire be­cause he be­lieved the base was com­ing un­der at­tack.

How­ever, rel­a­tives of the slain U.S. troops have de­scribed se­cu­rity cam­era footage that they say shows him shoot­ing for six min­utes, reload­ing and aim­ing at the Amer­i­cans, even as they iden­tify them­selves as friendly forces.

Af­ter plead­ing in­no­cent, the Jor­da­nian sol­dier, 1st Sgt. Marik al-Tuwayha, was tried by a mil­i­tary court in Jor­dan’s cap­i­tal, Amman, in the killings of Staff Sgt. Matthew Lewellen, 27, of Kirksville, Mo.; Staff Sgt. Kevin McEn­roe, 30, of Tuc­son, Ariz.; and Staff Sgt. James Mo­ri­arty, 27, of Ker­rville, Texas.

Dur­ing the month­long trial, he watched the pro­ceed­ings silently while stand­ing in a cage in the court­room.

He did not re­act Mon­day when the judge an­nounced the ver­dict and the max­i­mum pos­si­ble sen­tence, life in prison with hard la­bor. When he was led out of the cage, he said, “I have all the re­spect for the king, but I was do­ing my job.”

Rel­a­tives of two of the U.S. sol­diers sat qui­etly as the judge read the rul­ing.

Charles Lewellen, 53, whose son was killed, later said the ver­dict “won’t take the pain away” but that it proved “what we have been say­ing all along … that he mur­dered our sons.”

Some of the rel­a­tives crit­i­cized Jor­dan’s han­dling of the case and said the de­fen­dant should have re­ceived the death penalty. Jor­dan al­lows the death penalty, but it is usu­ally handed down in ter­ror­ism cases or in a mur­der cou­pled with an­other crime.

The Amer­i­cans were killed Nov. 4 as their con­voy waited at the gate to the al-Jafr base in south­ern Jor­dan. Jor­dan ini­tially said the Amer­i­cans trig­gered the shoot­ing by dis­obey­ing en­try rules, a claim that was later with­drawn.

The trial “con­firmed that the de­ceased U.S. ser­vice mem­bers fol­lowed all es­tab­lished pro­ce­dures when ac­cess­ing the base the day of the in­ci­dent, as we have noted be­fore,” the U.S. Em­bassy in Jor­dan said. “We are re­as­sured to see the per­pe­tra­tor brought to jus­tice.”

Jor­dan is a mem­ber of a U.S.-led coali­tion fight­ing Is­lamic State ex­trem­ists in neigh­bor­ing Syria and Iraq. Jor­dan hosts troops, in­clud­ing train­ers, from the U.S. and other coun­tries as part of the anti-Is­lamic State bat­tle.

“We are pleased to see that the per­pe­tra­tors have been brought to jus­tice,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pen­tagon spokesman. He said the U.S. re­spects Jor­dan’s mil­i­tary process and praised Jor­dan for ad­her­ing to its own laws in re­solv­ing the case ex­pe­di­tiously.

Davis wouldn’t com­ment on pos­si­ble mo­tives for the killing.

At the trial, al-Tuwayha and some of the gate guards tes­ti­fied they heard what might have been a pis­tol shot from the di­rec­tion of the U.S. con­voy. Al-Tuwayha said he opened fire be­cause he feared the base was un­der at­tack. Other guards said they held their fire be­cause they couldn’t de­ter­mine the source of the sound.

Al-Tuwayha has said he had “no in­ten­tion of killing any­one.”

Ac­cord­ing to the sur­veil­lance video de­scribed by the rel­a­tives, Lewellen and McEn­roe were the first to be hit by gun­fire. Mo­ri­arty and an­other sol­dier jumped out of their cars to take cover and re­turned fire from their pis­tols, ac­cord­ing to the de­scrip­tions of the video. They yelled that they were friendly forces, the rel­a­tives said.

The de­fen­dant kept shoot­ing, they said. He was se­ri­ously wounded in the ex­change.

The video was shown to the fam­ily by U.S. law en­force­ment of­fi­cials but has not been re­leased to the pub­lic.

Some of the rel­a­tives have ques­tioned why the video was not screened at the trial and why the court did not ask a sur­viv­ing U.S. sol­dier to tes­tify, de­spite what they said was his will­ing­ness to do so.

Mo­ri­arty’s father, Jim, wrote in a let­ter Mon­day to the Jor­da­nian Em­bassy in the U.S. that the “suc­cess­ful pros­e­cu­tion” was a “good first step, but it is only the first step.”

In the let­ter, a copy of which was given to The As­so­ci­ated Press, Mo­ri­arty listed sev­eral de­mands to Jor­dan. These in­cluded al­low­ing the de­fen­dant to be re-in­ter­viewed by the FBI about his mo­tive and re­leas­ing the se­cu­rity video to the fam­i­lies. Mo­ri­arty, a lawyer, said the video had been en­tered into ev­i­dence at the trial.

Cyn­thia Lewellen, 53, the mother of Matthew Lewellen, ex­pressed sym­pa­thy for all those af­fected by the shoot­ing, in­clud­ing the fam­ily of the de­fen­dant.

“In this ver­dict, no­body comes out happy,” she said. “I mean for us as los­ing our sons and know­ing the man that killed him will spend 20 years in prison, but also for his fam­ily that be­cause of his ac­tions … lost a father, a hus­band, a provider.”

In Jor­dan, life in prison can mean 20 years, with time off for good be­hav­ior.

De­fense lawyer Subhi alMawas said he would ap­peal Mon­day’s court rul­ing.

AP/OMAR AK­OUR

A mil­i­tary court con­venes Mon­day in Amman, Jor­dan, in the case of a Jor­da­nian sol­dier ac­cused of fa­tally shoot­ing three U.S. mil­i­tary train­ers last year.

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