- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 9, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Two elite Navy SEALs were arraigned on Monday on charges related to punching a terrorist leader once in the gut, with a third SEAL to face arraignment later. Special Operations Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew McCabe is charged with unlawfully striking a terrorist suspect “in the midsection with his fist” and for purportedly lying to a Naval Criminal Investigative Service officer about the incident. Petty Officers Julio Huertas and Jonathan Keefe are charged with impeding the investigation and dereliction of duty in failing to safeguard a detainee.

The proceedings against these heroes are an outrage to all the brave Americans serving in uniform to defend this country, especially those deployed in harm’s way.

The supposed victim, Ahmed Hashim Abed, was the mastermind behind killing, burning and mutilating four American contractors in Fallujah, Iraq, in March 2004. His followers hung the desiccated corpses high on a box-girder bridge over the Euphrates River. Mr. Abed was run down by the SEALs on a covert mission in September 2009.

He later claimed to Iraqi authorities that he was slugged sometime after his apprehension.

Public support for the accused SEALs has exploded. The Facebook group Support the Navy Seals Who Captured Ahmed Hashim Abed has attracted 60,000 members in three weeks purely by word of mouth. David Lussier, the group’s founder, told The Washington Times: “These men, along with their families, have been put through enough. Some people forget that these men have families who have worried about them since the day they enlisted, to the day they landed in Iraq, until the day they finally make it home alive. To make them now go through all of this is not justice, certainly not what they signed into. This is a punch in the gut not only to the SEALs but to the [families], who spend many nights awake waiting for a phone call.”

Betty Kilbride, one of the group’s organizers and author of “Soul of American Warriors,” based in part on her experiences as an embed with the Marines in Iraq in 2006, said she believes Mr. Abed’s accusation is part of a systematic effort by the terrorists to achieve asymmetric victories against a military they cannot defeat. “The main objective of the terrorists is to undermine the authority and divide the brotherhood of our military,” she said. “They know how to use our laws against us.” A famous al Qaeda training manual instructs detained terrorists always to accuse their captors of torture, though a single punch should hardly qualify.

As retired Green Beret Jim Hanson observes on the facing page, we are witnessing a tectonic shift in the way terrorists are being fought, moving from a military model to a law enforcement one. The war on terrorism has been replaced by the “struggle against violent extremism.” Under new guidelines instituted by the Obama administration, terror incidents are referred to as “man-caused disasters.” Counterinsurgencies are “contingency operations.” Al Qaeda leaders have been granted the full constitutional rights of American citizens. The whole tenor of the Obama administration is to downplay the seriousness of the very serious business of war.

This shift in focus has a troubling impact on our fighting forces. The brave Americans serving overseas risk their lives daily in ambiguous circumstances in which they are called upon to make many judgment calls. Now they increasingly have to worry about being second-guessed by people who were not on the scene. A lot is riding on what happens in the SEALs’ case. “I can tell you that the outcome of this case is going to affect a lot more than three people,” Mr. Lussier told us. “Many thousand now have a vested interest in them.

“Many members of the Special Operations Forces community and many members of the armed forces are waiting to see just how this plays out. They want to know if our government really does support them.”

The day after the arraignment, a hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone killed three suspected terrorists and wounded three people in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal district. Apparently terrorists and bystanders can be slain on sight by remote control, but a punch thrown in the heat of the moment means a court-martial.

This is no way to fight a war. “If these Navy SEALs fail in their attempt to clear their names,” Ms. Kilbride said, “we all fail.”

She’s right on target. A nation cannot achieve victory in war when the government is targeting its own warriors.

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