Tabloid-level allegations are clouding a possible renewed investigation of four Navy SEALs, initially conducted by the deputy staff advocate and Combined Forces Special Operations Command, Afghanistan. The accused now face a possible double jeopardy situation, having been previously cleared of charges. Renewed anxiety for the SEALs is now prevalent thanks to hoisted media hype and manipulated document leaks. Four enlisted SEALs of SEAL Team 2 initially faced allegations of negligent dereliction of duty, failure to report abuse. The charge was reviewed by their commander at Captain’s Mast and it was found to be unmerited.
Soon after the commander’s ruling, new eyewitness testimony arose, and in respect for the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the incident was reopened by investigators. An inquiry into what may have occurred was conducted and was then summarily dismissed as baseless. Yet a new investigation may be underway, and the hyperbole being fabricated based on unfounded witness testimony by mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times is, at best, fiction.
Common sense should dictate that justice is blind and that witness testimony is not a smoking gun. Perception, personal agendas, peer pressure, and beliefs can cloud witness statements. No one, especially a member of the press, should jump to conclusions until the investigators have weighed the evidence, even if the case has already been reviewed twice and is now approaching a third review.
Efforts to determine what the SEALs were up to are being based on wavering statements from an unfriendly local populace and lower enlisted military personnel. An E4, Specialist Walker, is cited as a key witness, yet based on his years of service and limited insight into command and planning, his observations could fall short of the bigger picture and land the investigation far from fact. Also, his eagerness to put his name down as a witness should raise suspicions about his personal motivations.
Simply put, there was a combat incident in Afghanistan and things were not pleasant. War is not pleasant. That said, stories of impromptu waterboarding, restrained beatings, and weapons discharges as advanced interrogation techniques are being put forth as fact before this has even gone to trial. The witness reports and the mainstream media picture being painted on a thin canvas cannot bear the weight of such an embellished tale meant to devalue the operations conducted by American and coalition forces in Afghanistan. The narrative being portrayed at this time appears to belong in a book or a movie rather than in real life.
The current problem with this case is sloppy reporting via some overambitious leads, the likes of which may very well contaminate the justice of this case. This has already tarnished the reputation of these service members and the military in the eyes of those too limited to read past the propaganda. The jury is still out, but in the court of public opinion, these SEALs have already been tried, found guilty, and set to hang. It remains to be seen what further evidence has yet to be presented by NCIS investigators, or who will be found to be speaking the truth.
This incident occurred in 2012, and naval investigators at that time found inconsistencies with the witness statements provided against the SEALs. There was evidence that the Afghan National Police (ANP) did abuse the prisoners in question, yet the ANP is not on any SEAL team. Accusations aside, the assertion by the New York Times that there was a coverup is reckless and completely disregards reality. There were two investigations and there will now likely be a third; if this is a cover-up, the person in charge of cover-ups needs to be fired.
A new investigation is likely on the horizon for the SEALs, although the new concern is that justice may not be achieved after a guilty verdict has already been announced in the court of public opinion.