Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Special Forces officer under investigation by Army called to testify at whistleblower hearing

A Green Beret officer who raised questions on Capitol Hill about U.S. hostage policy and was placed under criminal investigation by the Army has been called to testify in a Senate hearing examining reprisals that government whistleblowers can face, congressional officials said.

Lt. Col. Jason Amerine was invited to testify June 11 before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Patrick McIlheran, a spokesman for Sen. Ron Johnson (R.Wis.), who is chairman of the committee. The hearing is called “Blowing the Whistle on Retaliation: Accounts of Current and Former Federal Agency Whistleblowers.”

“As always, Chairman Johnson hopes the witness will be able to provide good information to the committee,” McIlheran said. “He will wait to comment until after he hears the testimony.”

Amerine has been under investigation by Army Criminal Investigation Command for four months, he said in a Facebook post May 15. He alleged the probe was launched after the FBI complained that he was speaking with officials on Capitol Hill about U.S. hostage recovery efforts, in which he played a leading role at the Defense Department. Amerine has been credited by Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R.Calif.) in helping to develop an amendment that calls for President Obama to appoint a specific federal official to oversee hostage tracking and recovery.

“This bill helps to resolve the FBI’s impotence to help our hostages overseas as well as our government’s disorganized efforts across all agencies,” said Amerine, in his post. He has declined to comment further. “The bureaucracy is broken; this is not about party politics and requires both parties to come together to achieve a solution as they are attempting in this bipartisan effort. But 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.

“If I learned nothing in my 22 years of service I learned that we never leave people behind,” he concluded. “This Bill makes it past the Senate and gets signed or it doesn’t but I will be damned if we didn’t try.”

Paul Bresson, a spokesman for the FBI, and Chris Grey, a spokesman with Army CID, declined to comment. Grey has previously disputed that Amerine is being investigated as an act of reprisal.

“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,” Grey said last month. “As a matter of policy, we do not confirm the names of individuals who may or may not be under investigation to protect the integrity of a possible ongoing investigation, as well as the privacy rights of all involved.”

Amerine said in his Facebook post that he had raised his concerns to Congress about the FBI’s “failed efforts” to recover Warren Weinstein, an aid worker who was accidentally killed in a U.S. drone strike near the Pakistani border earlier this year, and Caitlan Coleman, an American who was traveling in Afghanistan while pregnant when she was kidnapped in 2012. It is believed that she remains in captivity with her husband and child.

The case pits the Army against one of the first heroes of the Afghanistan War. Amerine commanded a Special Forces team there in 2001, working alongside former Afghan President Hamid Karzai before he became the interim leader of Kabul’s fledgling government followed the fall of the Taliban. Amerine’s time there ended Dec. 5, 2001, when he was wounded by an American bomb that killed three other Special Forces soldiers in a friendly-fire incident.

Hunter’s office has advocated fiercely for Amerine in recent days. In a May 28 letter to Army Secretary John McHugh, Hunter wrote that he was disappointed to hear that Amerine’s planned retirement after 22 years of service has been delayed “due to a baseless and retaliatory investigation.”

“For the record, I have personally met with senior officials within the FBI, and I have been provided a clear understanding of where and how the informal complaint against Amerine originated,” Hunter wrote, without elaborating. “Based on this interaction and the information provided, it remains my firm belief that the Army investigation, as it currently stands, is strictly retaliatory and has severely exceeded the appropriate timeframe for reviewing such a complaint.”

Hunter also said in the letter that Amerine’s approved retirement orders have been revoked, and his security clearance has been suspended. Amerine also no longer works on hostage recovery. The congressman has called for McHugh to review the case.

An Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Ben Garrett, confirmed that his retirement orders were revoked, and that Amerine’s pay was incorrectly stopped due to an administrative error. That error has since been corrected, he said. Amerine is currently assigned to the Army’s operations and technology office in Arlington, Va., Garrett said.

Amerine received the Bronze Star with “V” and the Purple Heart for service in Afghanistan. The Army later labeled him a “Real Hero” in the 2006 version of its popular video game, “America’s Army.”

More recently, Amerine wrote a book with author Eric Blehm, “The Only Thing Worth Dying For,” that was published in 2011.

Amerine’s team wanted to recover Weinstein along with Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier who went missing in 2009 and was recovered last May, as well as Coleman, her husband Joshua Boyle and their child, born in captivity. Two other Westerners also would have been included, but they have not been identified for their own security, said a spokesman of Hunter’s, Joe Kasper.

Under Amerine’s plan, they all would have been swapped for Haji Bashir Noorzai, an Afghan drug lord who had links to the Taliban, but also helped U.S. military officials find insurgent weapons caches in Afghanistan. He was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to life in prison after being lured to the United States in 2005.

It is unclear how the swap would have worked. Weinstein was held in Pakistan by al-Qaeda, while Bergdahl was held by a group with links to the Taliban. Bergdahl was turned over to a U.S. Special Operations team in Afghanistan on May 31, 2014, in a controversial swap in which five Taliban officials were released.

Chapter IX Commo Sergeant's comment: Jason Amerine is known to a couple of this Chapter's members as an outstanding Special Forces Officer of the highest integrity.

Article by the Washington Post

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