U.S. servicemembers locked up for years while accused terrorists are being let free

United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Photo credit: DoD

As the Obama administration makes good on the promise to release prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to their respective countries, a handful of American soldiers continue to rot in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for alleged crimes committed in the heat of battle.

Known as the “Leavenworth 10”, the name was bequeathed to a fluctuating number of men housed at Leavenworth for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan- actions that their supporters swear were fully justified. While some have been paroled over time, more have been incarcerated.

“The very people who protect our freedoms and liberties are having their own freedoms and liberties taken away,” retired U.S. Army Col. Allen West, a former congressman and political commentator told Fox News. “I think it’s appalling and no one is talking about this issue.”

One long-standing member, Master Sergeant John Hatley, is serving a life sentence in Leavenworth.

First Sergeant John Hatley (DoD)
First Sergeant John Hatley (DoD)

A 20-year veteran of Operation Desert Storm with an additional three Iraq War tours under his belt, he was convicted for executing Iraqi prisoners- whose bodies were never found.

In April of 2007, Hatley was serving with the 1st Infantry Division when he captured two enemy combatants during a firefight. After radioing a detention facility to notify them of the four detainees heading their way, he was given orders to release the insurgents.

Two years later, under pressure for a plea deal from charges of assaulting an officer and falling asleep at his post, Jesse Cunningham told investigators that Hatley blindfolded and executed the insurgents, then dumped their bodies in the canal.

The 47-year old Hatley still insists that he released the insurgents but is serving time due to an act of politics, not justice.

“When concerns over appeasing a foreign country are allowed to interfere with justice for the purpose of the U.S. government or the military demonstrating that we, the military or the U.S. government will hold our soldiers accountable using a fatally flawed military judicial system, it doesn’t matter what the truth is; it matters only that there is only the appearance of the truth,” he told his supporters on his website.

Another case- the 20-year sentencing of 101st Airborne Division 1st Lieutenant Clint Lorance- stems from the war in Afghanistan.

1st Lieutenant Clint Lorance. (DoD)
1st Lieutenant Clint Lorance. (DoD)

Convicted of ordering his men to shoot suspected Taliban scouts in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province in 2012, Lorance had only been in command a few days as a replacement for an officer who had been killed.

With the two Taliban scouts matching a description given by pilots just hours before, Lorance gave orders to shoot the three men, who were riding a motorcycle toward his patrol.

While the record states that his platoon turned him in, Lorance’s lawyers have been skeptical of the platoon’s accounts, particularly because nine of the soldiers who testified against him were granted immunity. In addition, military prosecutors may have rigged his fate by failing to turn over evidence to the defense team.

Despite a WhiteHouse.gov petition calling for Lorance to be pardoned that garnered nearly 125,000 signatures, Lorance remains behind bars- where he adheres to a strict self-imposed schedule and attends classes.

Meanwhile, a March 2015 memo released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reports that of the 647 detainees transferred or released from Guantanamo Bay, 17.9 percent were confirmed of re-engaging in extremist activity- with another 10.7 percent unaccounted for but suspected of the same.

One such Guantanamo detainee -Said Mohammad Alim Shah- was returned to Afghanistan in March of 2004. After his release, he was responsible for kidnapping two Chinese engineers, as well as taking credit for several bombings and attacks, including one that left 21 people dead.

While the US public displays mixed feelings concerning the release of prisoners from and eventual closure of Guantanamo, very little thought is given to the strict and often unfair Rules of Engagement pressured on US Troops fighting overseas.

“The rules of engagement should be coming from the bottom up and not the other way around, to protect them against the scores of non-state combatants and enemies,” Col. West said.

The release of prisoners from Guantanamo began in 2005, when nearly 200 detainees who had yet to receive tribunals were released under the oversight of President George W. Bush.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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