- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A member of the House Committee on Armed Services is accusing the Army top brass of launching a criminal investigation against a Green Beret war hero as a way to retaliate against the congressman.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, has battled Army headquarters on a number fronts in recent years, such as a faulty ground intelligence network and what he considers unprofessional treatment of soldiers denied or stripped of awards.

The ill feelings erupted in a heated exchange with Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Army chief of staff. At a 2013 hearing, Mr. Hunter, a former Marine officer and a committee activist, accused the Army of holding back off-the-shelf technology that helps soldiers in Afghanistan find the enemy.

“I’m tired of somebody telling me I don’t care about our soldiers,” Gen. Odierno shouted.

Now, the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command is investigating Lt. Col. Jason Amerine for his collaboration with Mr. Hunter’s staff on legislation to overhaul the Obama administration’s hostage policies and hopefully win the freedom of captured Americans.

“It’s our belief that the Army investigation into Amerine is occurring strictly due to his association to Rep. Hunter,” Joe Kasper, Mr. Hunter’s chief of staff, told The Washington Times. “In fact, Rep. Hunter has met with representatives of the federal agencies involved, and he’s acquired a deep understanding of where and how the complaint against Amerine originated and the Army’s decision to proceed.”

Col. Amerine, who plans to retire soon, holds a special place in the history of the Afghanistan War. He led one of the first Green Beret A-teams into southern Afghanistan in 2001. His team then collaborated with Afghan fighters, one of them being Hamid Karzai, the future president of Afghanistan. The Green Beret-militia unit drove toward Kandahar before it was stopped, not by the Taliban but by the blast of a bomb dropped by a U.S. pilot.

At the Pentagon, Col. Amerine worked in a small Army unit, devoting his time to hostage issues. In January, he was escorted out of the Pentagon and assigned a desk job in Crystal City, Virginia.

“For those wondering what this investigation is about: I have been under criminal investigation for the last four months for whistleblowing to Congress over our completely dysfunctional system for recovering hostages,” Col. Amerine said in a May 15 Facebook post. “The FBI formally complained to the Army about me reporting to Congress about their failed efforts to recover Warren Weinstein, Caitlin Coleman and the child she bore in captivity.”

Warren Weinstein was working for a private contractor in the tribal areas of Pakistan in 2011 when he was kidnapped by al Qaeda. He was mistakenly killed by a U.S. drone strike in January. Mrs. Coleman and her Canadian husband were kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2012.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks, five Americans have been killed in captivity, four of them by Islamists.

Col. Amerine worked with Mr. Hunter to craft a bill that would centralize hostage negotiations and recovery with one interagency coordinator, and expand the involvement of family members.

“The bill helps to resolve the FBI’s impotence to help our hostages overseas as well as our government’s disorganized efforts across all agencies,” Col. Amerine wrote in a Facebook message captured by The Washington Post. “The bureaucracy is broken.”

The U.S. has had little success in rescuing hostages from the clutches of Islamic extremists. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl gained freedom from Pakistan’s brutal Haqqani network in exchange for the Obama administration’s release of five Taliban chieftains. The Army subsequently has charged Sgt. Bergdahl with desertion.

“The Army somehow thought it made sense to initiate a CID investigation into me executing both my duty and my right to speak to Congress,” Col. Amerine wrote.

Col. Amerine was scheduled to sit down Thursday with Criminal Investigation Command agents, but the Army informed the officer that his attorney could not be present because classified information would be discussed. According to Mr. Hunter’s office, the lawyer has a security clearance and will not let Col. Amerine answer questions without an attorney present. The session has been postponed.

“The Army could have cleared up the issue right away simply by talking to Amerine, but we’re told through multiple sources that there was insistence within the Army that he be investigated for his work to save the lives of Americans held captive, simply because Rep. Hunter was involved,” said Mr. Kasper, the chief of staff. “Most insulting is how the Army takes no care in disparaging one of its own, even a highly decorated war hero like Amerine.”

The Army did not respond to a query.

Mr. Hunter, who served in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, has taken on the Army in several well-publicized spats.

He is a vocal critic of the Army’s Distributed Command Ground System, an intelligence collection network that has failed operational tests and has drawn criticism from intelligence officers.

Citing what he considered mismanagement, Mr. Hunter opposed consideration of Lt. Gen. Mary A. Legere, the Army’s top intelligence officer, to be director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. That job eventually went to a Marine general.

Mr. Hunter also went to war against Army Secretary John McHugh for stripping Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, a Green Beret, of a Silver Star without any official accusation of wrongdoing in the killing of a Taliban bomb maker.

The congressman won passage of a House amendment that would strip service secretaries of the authority to unilaterally remove awards unless charges are brought.

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