Thursday, January 7, 2010

Political correctness has undermined the military for years. Recently things have turned for the worse. Under the Obama administration’s pursuit of a “new era of engagement” with America’s enemies, it has gained more prominence.

That is reflected in the December tragedy at Fort Hood, Texas, by the failure to cashier Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan out of the U.S. Army. His military associates and commanding officers had to have known for years of his openly acknowledged sympathy for fanatical jihadism yet evidently did nothing out of fear of being labeled anti-Muslim and/or accused of racial profiling. Such charges in today’s military can have a career-ending impact.

There is no question Maj. Hasan should have been court-martialed based on the previous known fact that he was communicating with the enemy, the Yemen-based radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki on jihadism. This failure resulted in 14 Americans (including an unborn child) losing their lives in the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001. Military commanders who had oversight responsibilities for Maj. Hasan must be held accountable.

Then there’s the case of the three elite U.S. Navy SEALs from SEAL Team 10 who face criminal charges after capturing one of the most wanted terrorists in Iraq, Ahmed Hashim Abed. This man was credited with the murder and mutilations of four American security guards in Fallujah. Their bodies were burned and dragged through the city, then two of the bodies were hung from a bridge. The charges against the SEALs are based on an accusation that the terrorist was punched in the stomach and had a “bloody lip.”

When you consider that the Defense Department is well aware of the al Qaeda training manual that provides guidance to its terrorists that if “they are captured, they should claim they were tortured and/or mal-treated,” the absurdity is obvious.

The best-selling book “Lone Survivor” by Marcus Luttrell (Little, Brown & Co., 2007) describes the dilemma facing four SEALs (also from SEAL Team 10) deployed on an Afghan mountaintop to kill or capture Ahmad Shah, a Taliban leader who was close to Osama bin Laden.

Unfortunately, “Murphy’s Law” came into play as three Afghan goatherders stumbled on their hiding spot. The politically correct rules of engagement (ROEs) caused the SEALs to let them go, instead of killing them. Within an hour the goatherders betrayed their position to the Taliban and the SEALs suffered their greatest loss. Three of the SEALs were killed and one barely survived after being blown off a cliff by a rocket-propelled grenade.

An MH-47 Chinook helicopter was dispatched with eight SEALs and eight 160th Special Operations “Nightstalkers” to rescue the team but on reaching the site, the helicopter was shot down with the loss of all 16 men. Pvt. 1st Class Marcus Luttrell was the only survivor from the original four-man SEAL team.

Political correctness has often surfaced over the years in our rules of engagement. The restrictions imposed on our forces in Vietnam are legend. The U.S. Marines providing perimeter security for the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon on Oct. 23, 1983, were prohibited from chambering a round, leaving 241 dead. Similar instances occurred with the bombing of Khobar Towers in 1997 and the suicide bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.

In November, the The Washington Times compiled an informal list of current ROEs in Afghanistan. The ROEs are said to reflect a change in our operating culture and put the Afghan people first. A partial list includes:

c No night or surprise searches.

c Villagers have to be warned prior to searches.

c U.S. soldiers may not fire at the enemy unless the enemy is preparing to fire first.

c U.S. forces cannot engage the enemy if civilians are present.

c U.S. forces can fire at an “insurgent” if they catch him placing an improvised explosive device but not if “insurgents” are walking away from an area where explosives have been laid.

Clearly, political correctness has had its impact. There have been too many instances where our forces have been put in jeopardy because we did not employ available capabilities for fear of collateral damage.

The safety of our military forces should come first. If our military forces are going to put their lives on the line for our country, then they must have the confidence that their commanders will do everything in their power to protect them. That’s not happening.

James A. Lyons, U.S. Navy retired admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.

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