This Green Beret whistleblower risked his career to change US hostage policy
In 2001, Lt. Col. Jason Amerine was one of the first U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan to avenge the 9/11 attacks. He is a Green Beret, the U.S. Army’s elite special forces with five primary missions: unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance, direct action, and counterterrorism. Amerine helped tribal leader and future Afghan President Hamid Karzai launch a guerilla war against the Taliban with U.S. help and was instrumental in the capture of Kandahar.
Amerine was injured by friendly fire that killed three other special operators. He received a Bronze Star with Valor and a Purple Heart for his actions. In 2002, he was a special guest a President George W. Bush’s State of the Union Address. The Army made him a “Real Hero” in the video game “America’s Army.” They even made him into an action figure.
In 2014, Amerine presented a plan to California Congressman Duncan Hunter to help with legislation concerning how the United States recovers hostages. Members of Congress have security clearances and are constitutionally charged with oversight. Amerine did not go to the media, put documents on the internet, or violate laws.
But he did hurt the FBI’s feelings.
The Army did not take kindly to Amerine’s disclosure to Congress and initiated what seemed to be a retaliatory investigation into his actions. It turned out the FBI complained to the Army about Amerine’s criticism of the Bureau’s efforts to recover Warren Weinstein, a captured aid worker who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan, Caitlan Coleman, an American who was captured in Afghanistan while pregnant in 2012. Throughout the investigation, the Army prevented Amerine from retiring and even stopped paying him, unlike its treatment of alleged deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who were paid throughout their trials. He was under investigation for almost a year.
“The investigation undermines the right of servicemembers to petition the government, and appears to violate the statutory protections for military whistleblowers,” Hunter said in a letter co-written by California Congresswoman Jackie Speier.
A spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division said of Amerine’s case, “We reject any notion that Army CID initiates felony criminal investigations for any other purpose than to fairly and impartially investigate credible criminal allegations that have been discovered or brought forward.”
A staffer of Representative Hunter’s said a plan was developed in the Pentagon to secure the release of Weinstein. The FBI would have released Haji Bashir Noorzai, a Taliban member in prison in the U.S. for drug trafficking, in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Berghdal, who was released by the time of the investigation into Amerine. Coleman, a U.S. citizen, and her husband, Canadian Joshua Boyle, held by the Taliban, and Dr. Shakil Afridi, a spy for the CIA in Pakistan, held by Pakistan as well as Weinstein. This deal did not take place and Bergdahl was released through a different deal.
CNN reported the key issues with current American strategy as of 2014 was lack of communication by the U.S. government to families of hostages and a lack of coordination about how to free them. If there were more coordination, the FBI could have told the CIA not to strike the house where Weinstein was being held. For the families, the government wouldn’t communicate because they don’t hold security clearances.
President Obama ordered a review of hostage procedures after three Americans, journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, were beheaded by ISIS. Representative Hunter’s bill proposed a “Hostage Czar,” a pointman who would coordinate hostage releases with necessary agencies.
Amerine’s West Point colleagues banded together to create a White House “We the People” petition, where 100,000 signatures would oblige the White House to respond to the petition that it provide whistleblower protection and end the investigation.
Rep. Hunter, long a dogged supporter of the military and veterans (himself a former Marine officer and Iraq and Afghanistan veteran), announced Amerine’s retirement with full pay and benefits as a Lt. Col. Amerine was cleared of any wrongdoing and received the Legion of Merit.
“What’s most frustrating is that the FBI refused to work with Jason,” Hunter wrote on his Congressional website. “It’s my firm belief that failures to safely recover Americans held captive in hostile areas is a direct result of that refusal. What’s also frustrating is that some senior Army leaders—including General Mary Legere—refused to give Jason the respect and opportunity to explain what we all knew was true: the FBI wanted Jason out of the way. The easiest thing to do was whisper an allegation to the Army, and the Army took the bait, investigating Jason for reasons that were unsupported by any of the facts.