Navy SEALs see slights with their suc­cesses Ad­min­is­tra­tion helps Hol­ly­wood while pun­ish­ing, en­dan­ger­ing fight­ers

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

Navy SEALs are the toast of Amer­ica, but rev­e­la­tions show that the top brass has not al­ways watched their backs dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

SEALs have brought ex­hil­a­rat­ing mo­ments for the White House. The sto­ried SEAL Team 6 killed Osama bin Laden in Pak­istan in 2011 and res­cued U.S. cargo ship cap­tain Richard Phillips from So­mali pi­rates in 2009. Hol­ly­wood trans­formed both op­er­a­tions into block­buster movies — with the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s help.

But some in the spe­cial op­er­a­tions com­mu­nity cite shabby treat­ment.

A book by Billy Vaughn, fa­ther of a SEAL killed in the Aug. 6, 2011, shoot­down of a Chi­nook he­li­copter in Afghanistan, blames the ad­min­is­tra­tion for leak­ing too much in­for­ma­tion about his son’s unit.

Another book by two for­mer SEALs tells the “shame­ful or­deal” they en­dured based on al­le­ga­tions of pris­oner abuse by one un­re­li­able sailor and one de­ter­mined ter­ror­ist. In­stead of is­su­ing grat­i­tude for nab­bing the “butcher of Fal­lu­jah” in Iraq in 2009, U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand court-mar­tialed the SEALs on felony charges.

The two au­thors and a third SEAL were ac­quit­ted by mil­i­tary ju­ries when the prose­cu­tion’s case fall apart.

One of those for­mer SEALs, Matthew McCabe, said in an in­ter­view that the or­deal en­cour­aged him to leave the Navy last year rather than try out for Team 6 as he had planned.

“At that point, I re­ally was think­ing, ‘We gave a lot to be in this po­si­tion. And for the mi­nor al­le­ga­tion we’re be­ing ac­cused of, for you to turn your back on us that quick, I’m not go­ing to give any more,’” said Mr. McCabe, now a com­modi­ties an­a­lyst in Houston. “I’m done with what’s go­ing on. Should I go to work ev­ery day and give 1,000 per­cent if at the drop of a dime some­one is go­ing to stab me in the back? I’m not go­ing to do that.”

The Pen­tagon said last week that it plans to take puni­tive ac­tion against a for­mer SEAL Team 6 mem­ber for writ­ing an unau­tho­rized book about his role in killing bin Laden.

The threat was made even though the White House leaked a huge amount of de­tails about the raid and co­op­er­ated in the mak­ing of “Dark Zero Thirty,” for which the film’s di­rec­tor re­ceived CIA brief­ings.

Courts-mar­tial for cap­ture

In 2010, pro-mil­i­tary law­mak­ers and cit­i­zens ex­pressed out­rage that U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand had filed charges against Mr. McCabe and two other SEALs in the cap­ture of Ahmed Hashim Abed. One of the most­wanted by the U.S., Abed was the ac­cused mas­ter­mind of the slay­ings and des­e­cra­tions of four Amer­i­can se­cu­rity con­trac­tors in the volatile town of Fal­lu­jah, west of Bagh­dad, in 2004.

The SEAL unit had ex­e­cuted a pre­cise raid to in­fil­trate Abed’s hiding place, cap­ture him and whisk him away in a chop­per. No one was hurt.

The SEALs were stunned to learn days later that Abed had ac­cused the three of hit­ting him. Their su­pe­ri­ors, all the way up to Cen­tral Com­mand, sided with the ter­ror­ist. No one be­lieved their re­peated de­nials. This was a setup, they said.

A mas­ter chief petty of­fi­cer con­fronted them and de­manded their weapons, a dev­as­tat­ing scene ren­dered in the book “Honor and Be­trayal,” writ­ten by Pa­trick Robin­son, as told by Mr. McCabe and fel­low for­mer SEAL Jonathan Keefe.

“Right here it should be recorded that to strip a U.S. Navy SEAL of his ar­ma­ments is al­most to strip him of his birthright,” Mr. Robin­son writes. “Th­ese men have darn near killed them­selves to earn the right to serve their coun­try. To line them up and re­move their ever-present com­bat gear was also to strip them of their dig­nity, pride and honor.”

Three suc­ces­sive courts-mar­tial showed Abed to be fol­low­ing the al Qaeda text­book: Once cap­tured, claim to have been abused. The cred­i­bil­ity of the ac­cus­ing sailor col­lapsed un­der cross-ex­am­i­na­tion.

A Cen­tral Com­mand spokesman de­clined to com­ment on the book.

Lt. Gen. Charles Cleve­land, who filed the charges as Cen­tral Com­mand’s top com­mando, de­fended his ac­tion in a let­ter to Congress as the courts-mar­tial were about to be­gin in 2010.

“Re­gret­tably, it ap­pears that your per­cep­tion of the in­ci­dent is based on in­com­plete and fac­tu­ally in­ac­cu­rate press cov­er­age,” wrote Gen. Cleve­land, who is now com­man­der of U.S. Army Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­mand. “De­spite what has been re­ported, th­ese al­le­ga­tions are not founded solely on the word of the de­tainee, but rather, were ini­tially raised by other U.S. ser­vice mem­bers.” Mr. McCabe said he still feels be­trayed. “The ‘be­trayal’ in the book ti­tle is di­rected at the cou­ple of guys in that lead­er­ship po­si­tion and then ev­ery­one above that who was part of it,” he said. “We got be­trayed by them. Not the mil­i­tary as a whole, not the coun­try. Ninety per­cent of the mil­i­tary is awe­some. There are al­ways bad eggs ev­ery­where. Any­body who con­doned this to go on and knew about it, that’s who we got be­trayed by.”

Ex­tor­tion 17

A year af­ter the courts-mar­tial, SEALs were vic­tim­ized again — this time on the bat­tle­field in Afghanistan. Some fam­ily mem­bers say their sons were let down by a mil­i­tary com­mand that sent them on a poorly planned mis­sion.

One of the fa­thers, Billy Vaughn, has writ­ten a book, “Be­trayed: The Shock­ing True Story of Ex­tor­tion 17 as Told by a Navy SEAL’s Fa­ther.”

Ex­tor­tion 17 was the call sign for a CH-47 Chi­nook he­li­copter in which 30 U.S. ser­vice mem­bers, in­clud­ing 17 SEALs and five naval spe­cial op­er­a­tors, rode to their deaths on Aug. 6, 2011.

Mr. Vaughn, fa­ther of Chief Petty Of­fi­cer Aaron Vaughn, writes that he reached a heart­break­ing con­clu­sion as he looked into the crash.

“We quickly came face-to-face with our worst night­mare,” he and his wife, Karen, write on their web­site. “Our boys shouldn’t have died that night. The down­ing of Ex­tor­tion 17 was at best un­nec­es­sary and at worst a neg­li­gent, reck­less loss of life.”

The Tal­iban’s ac­cu­racy with a rocket-pro­pelled grenade that night marked the most fa­tal­i­ties for naval spe­cial op­er­a­tors in any sin­gle day of the war on ter­ror­ism.

The Wash­ing­ton Times on Oct. 20 pub­lished a lengthy re­port about the tragedy based on 1,300 pages of in­ves­tiga­tive tran­scripts and re­ports.

U.S. com­man­ders told investigators that Ex­tor­tion 17’s land­ing zone in the Tangi Val­ley was not scru­ti­nized for threats, and two Apache gun­ships did not cover for the ap­proach­ing Chi­nook.

Other wit­nesses said the mis­sion was as­sem­bled hastily and that the Chi­nook lost the el­e­ment of sur­prise be­cause the Apaches and an AC-130 gun­ship had been fly­ing over­head nois­ily for three hours look­ing for flee­ing Tal­iban fight­ers.

Some fam­ily mem­bers say the men never should have been put on a con­ven­tional he­li­copter fly­ing into a hot­bed of Tal­iban ac­tiv­ity. Com­man­dos, es­pe­cially the elite SEAL Team 6, should ride in spe­cially con­fig­ured he­li­copters that are faster, bet­ter pro­tected, and guided by spe­cial op­er­a­tions pi­lots.

Some fam­ily mem­bers also sus­pect that a traitor in the Afghan se­cu­rity force tipped off the Tal­iban in Tangi Val­ley. That is how, they say, Tal­iban with rock­et­pro­pelled grenades were stand­ing just 100 yards away from a land­ing zone that the com­mand had never used.

‘No Easy Day’

Last week, the Pen­tagon made it clear that it plans to take ac­tion against for­mer SEAL Matt Bis­son­nette. It says he vi­o­lated a signed nondis­clo­sure agree­ment by writ­ing “No Easy Day: The First­hand Ac­count of the Mis­sion That Killed Osama bin Laden.”

Pen­tagon spokesman Ge­orge Lit­tle said the ad­min­is­tra­tion is in dis­cus­sions with Mr. Bis­son­nette’s at­tor­ney and is ready to sue the ex-SEAL in civil court.

“The depart­ment con­tin­ues to as­sert force­fully that this in­di­vid­ual breached his le­gal obli­ga­tions by pub­lish­ing the book with­out pre-pub­li­ca­tion re­view and clear­ance,” Mr. Lit­tle said. “We’re also poised to pur­sue civil lit­i­ga­tion, if nec­es­sary, for the au­thor’s breach.”

A reporter noted that Mr. Bis­son­nette also was part of the op­er­a­tion that saved a U.S. cargo ship cap­tain from the hands of So­mali pi­rates. Hol­ly­wood turned the 2009 res­cue into the fea­ture film “Cap­tain Phillips,” with the Navy’s help.

“Do you think this is some­what ironic and maybe the depart­ment should lay off or ease off ?” a reporter said.

“When you are in ma­te­rial breach of your con­tract with the Depart­ment of De­fense, that’s ac­tion worth pur­su­ing in our minds,” Mr. Lit­tle said. “So I think our po­si­tion is clear and has been clear from the very be­gin­ning. And I wouldn’t change a word about what I’ve said over the past year since this is­sue came to light.”

Mr. Bis­son­nette’s sup­port­ers say the White House, Pen­tagon and CIA anony­mously re­leased scads of de­tails about the bin Laden raid, per­haps even more than are re­vealed in “No Easy Day.”

They say that, if the Pen­tagon wants com­man­dos to honor agree­ments, it should set a bet­ter ex­am­ple.

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