Fathers of Slain Green Berets Accuse Jordanian of Murder
In a rare public appearance Tuesday in Washington, D.C., the grieving family members and lawmakers demanded that the White House take action against the Jordanian government, which maintains the shooter was following procedure.
Brian McEnroe, Chuck Lewellen and James Moriarty -- fathers of the slain soldiers -- held a press conference at the National Press Club to share new details of the events that unfolded Nov. 4 when Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew C. Lewellen, 27, of Lawrence, Kansas; Staff Sgt. Kevin J. McEnroe, 30, of Tucson, Arizona; and Staff Sgt. James F. Moriarty, 27, of Kerrville, Texas, were shot and killed by security forces while entering Al-Jafr Air Base.
"They were simply murdered by an allied officer of the Jordanian Army," Lewellen said. He and the other fathers called for the shooter to be criminally prosecuted.
Michael Short, a spokesman at the White House, referred questions about the matter to the Defense Department. Navy Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman, referred questions about the case to U.S. Special Operations Command.
"USSOCOM extends its deepest condolences to the families, friends and teammates of the three Special Forces Soldiers killed in this tragic incident," according to a statement from Col. Tom Davis, a spokesman for the command, which on Tuesday released the document along with a redacted copy of its own 15-6 investigation into the case. "The command is fully committed to working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation as they complete their separate, criminal investigation into the shooting."
The statement continues, "As the lead for the criminal investigation, the FBI is the release authority for information relating to the Jordanian Air Force guard involved in the shooting and other aspects regarding the incident."
An investigation by a joint U.S.-Jordanian committee found the "absence of premeditated intentions by M'aarek Abu Tayeh," the shooter, according to a March 6 letter from Dina Kawar, ambassador of the Kingdom of Jordan, to Rep. Ted Poe, a Republican from Texas. The correspondence was made available at the press conference.
Jordan is a key U.S. ally and member of a U.S.-led military coalition fighting militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, which controls parts of neighboring Iraq and Syria.
Reports of the incident accuse the Americans of failing to stop at the gate and also of having a negligent discharge, which allegedly caused security guards to panic and open fire.
All three fathers said they were briefed by the Army and the FBI on Feb. 28 and shown a detailed video of the shooting that refutes those accounts.
"There were two different reports that the Jordanian press released, and both of them accused our men of doing something wrong," Chuck Lewellen told reporters.
"Let me be clear: The men followed procedure for entering the checkpoint," he added. "They did not charge the gate, nor was there any accidental discharge of a weapon."
Lewellen described what occurred as the convoy of four American vehicles slowly drove through the security gate.
"Vehicle number one went through the gate with no problems," he said. "Vehicle number two being driven by Staff Sgt. McEnroe and my son, Sgt. 1st Class Lewellen, was going through with no problem."
Lewellen said, "I have watched the video showing their murders. Here is what happens next: There is a guard shack they must go by. The guard shack is a concrete hut with a sliding window that they must pass."
The guard shack is also covered with camo netting, making it difficult to see inside the shack, he said.
"As they pulled even with the sliding window, they were ambushed from mere feet away by a Jordanian officer, who was inside the guard shack with an M16, with accurate and lethal precision," Lewellen said. "There was no warning for my son or Staff Sgt. McEnroe."
The shooter, Abu Tayeh, heard gunshots near the main entrance to the base and believed it was under attack, according to the letter from the Jordanian embassy. "The gun he used in the incident was [an] M16, which he made ready upon hearing gunshots," it states.
The fathers of the fallen soldiers dispute this characterization of events. They say there were no gunshots and that the shooter was lying in wait.
After shooting the two Americans, Abu Tayeh then left the safety of his guard shack to pursue Staff Sgt. Moriarty and another Special Forces soldier, Lewellen said.
"Because of the surveillance video, we know that Kevin and Matt's survival chances were almost zero, caught completely by surprise by a Jordanian soldier," Moriarty said. "They died mercifully and quickly in a hail of gunfire. My son, Staff Sgt. James Moriarty, would not be so lucky."
Moriarty's son "Jimmy and a fellow Special Forces soldier I will call 'Mike,' exited their truck just in time to avoid being killed in cold blood," Moriarty said.
The video contained no audio, but Moriarty said he was told that his son and Mike would spend the next several minutes trying to communicate with the shooter in both English and in Arabic.
"My son and the survivor held their hands up and communicated that they were not a threat," said the former U.S. Marine. "They tried to signal to the Jordanians. There were five Jordanian soldiers who were no more than 200 yards down the road … and that is how I watched my son die."
The shooter then makes a last assault on the two soldiers, Moriarty said.
"Mike is caught by surprise and Jimmy stands up in full view of the shooter, and he engages him," said Moriarty, describing the distance as just a few feet.
"My son takes a couple of assault rifle rounds in the chest. Mike, using that opportunity, is seen circling around the Jersey barrier and finally he empties his gun in the side of the Jordanian soldier, where he is able to put rounds" between his body armor. Abu Tayeh survived, but is in a coma.
The fathers were flanked at the event by lawmakers including Poe and Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii, who introduced the bipartisan Stop Arming Terrorists Act in December. Also in attendance was Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Missouri.
"The loss of your sons is a loss to our country," Gabbard said. "We stand in solidarity with you in calling for answers and accountability. Your sons gave everything; they deserve more, and they deserve better."
Gabbard said the legislation would "end U.S. programs that have been going on for years, largely through the CIA that have provided funding, weapons, training to armed militant groups who are allied with and often working under the command of terrorist groups like al Qaeda, all in this effort to overthrow the Syrian government."
"The fact that American tax dollars are being used to strengthen the very terrorist groups that we should be focused on defeating should alarm every American and every member of Congress," Gabbard said.
The family members demanded that the Trump administration take some kind of action toward Jordan.
"Over four months have passed since our boys were murdered. None of our families has heard any apology, condolences or explanation from the Jordanians other than these false narratives," McEnroe said.
"In my mind, Jordan is at the very least guilty of complicity in the murder of three American brave servicemen," he said.
"We are told that Jordan is an important ally in the war on terror -- a war which I support -- but I encourage our president and our administration to take a hard look at our relationship with an ally who would so callously disrespect the sacrifice made by our boys," McEnroe said.
The fathers said they were very appreciative of the work of the Army and FBI to help them understand what happened.
"What we do not know is why it happened or when Jordan will be held accountable, and we do not know why Jordan continues to lie about what happened even this moment," Moriarty said, adding that he knows that the video was shown to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on March 3.
Poe, who serves as the chairman House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, said the shooter is apparently now in "custody" in an "induced medical coma" by the Jordanians.
"I wrote the Jordanian king after I talked to Jim Moriarty about his son," the lawmaker said. "The response seem to say that this entire incident was a mistake and that the Americans were at fault for this whole incident."
Last night, Poe said he received a second letter from the embassy of Jordan.
"They now say 'it was not a mistake but that the shooter was following the rules of engagement," Poe said.
Poe said he offered his support the fathers of the three Green Berets because "we want to find out what happened. I was a former judge, we want to have justice, we want to know exactly what happened and the people responsible need to be held accountable and the Jordanian government that works with the United States and has for years needs to come clean on the shooter … that is our goal and we will find those answers."
He added, "These three dads and their families deserve to know exactly what occurred when their sons were killed entering the Jordanian base where they work."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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