The Army this week stopped paying an active duty Green Beret war hero who is under investigation, prompting his lawyer to threaten to ask a military judge to intervene.
Meanwhile, the soldier’s West Point colleagues, class of 1993, have banded together to create a White House “We the People” petition. Reaching 100,000 signatures would obligate the White House to respond to a request that it provide whistleblower protection and end the investigation.
The action comes in the case of Lt. Col. Jason Amerine, one of the first Green Berets to invade Afghanistan in 2001 and lead a joint U.S.-Afghan team in fire fights as it moved toward the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
The Army in January escorted Col. Amerine from his Pentagon office after the FBI complained he was sharing information with Congress on policies for freeing American hostages.
Col. Amerine, who believes the planning process is broken, had worked behind the scenes with Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican. The congressman crafted a bill that would create, in effect, a czar to coordinate hostage-freeing efforts by the FBI, the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies.
Five American hostages have been killed in captivity, four by Islamists and one accidentally by a U.S. drone.
The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Tuesday invited Col. Amerine to testify before the panel at a June 11 hearing focused on reprisals against government whistleblowers.
“This hearing will highlight the stories of whistleblowers from different agencies who allege they faced retaliation because they brought attention to government wrongdoing,” said a letter to the officer signed by Sens. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican and committee chairman, and Thomas Carper of Delaware, the panel’s ranking Democrat.
Col. Amerine’s lawyer, Army Reserve Lt. Col. Billy Ruhling, sent an email Tuesday to an Army legal office demanding that his client be paid.
“I need to know ASAP what you will be doing to rectify this situation as LTC Amerine should not be expected to survive without pay as he is being involuntarily forced to remain on active duty,” the lawyer wrote. “I will look for your plan of action first thing in the morning.”
Col. Amerine was due to retire but was kept on active duty by Army Secretary John McHugh while the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID) probes his activities.
His supporters suggest the Army’s withholding of pay amounts to harassing an officer who considers himself a whistleblower. He filed a complaint with the Pentagon Inspector General in January charging that the Army is retaliating after he exercised his right to go to Congress and expose shortcomings in hostage policies.
“Please be aware that if the Army insists on persisting in the wholly unjustified course of action that it appears to want to pursue this is a situation that will be brought to the attention of the military judge at the earliest opportunity to ensure that my client is appropriately compensated,” his lawyer said.
The Army says it was a mistake, and it’s been corrected..
“Lt. Col. Jason L Amerine’s pay was incorrectly terminated due to the revocation of his previously approved retirement orders,” an Army spokesman said Wednesday evening.
Joe Casper, chief of staff for Mr. Hunter, says it’s ”amateur hour.”
“They can’t tell us with a straight face that the Army accidentally failed to pay him. But let’s just say that’s true. They need to get their act together, and McHugh really needs to show some leadership for once,” said Mr. Casper.
“This is really bothersome because we were told by the Army weeks ago that his retirement would be delayed pending their investigation. That’s more than enough time to put things in order. It’s just another way the Army can put the screws to one of its heroes. And that’s as sad as it’s unfortunate.”
Col. Amerine disclosed on his Facebook page that he is under criminal investigation for talking to Congress.
His West Point classmates need 100,000 signatures (they have 431) to force the White House to provide an official response.
“LTC Jason Amerine, SF, US Army, is a National Hero,” the petition states. “A graduate of the US Military Academy (West Point), he embodies the values of Duty, Honor, Country and the Cadet Prayer to choose the harder right rather than the easier wrong. Give LTC Amerine the Whistleblower Protection he deserves for his courageous selfless service.”
Raymond M. McDonald, a classmate who served in armor units and left the Army in 1998 as a captain, said Col. Amerine is the victim of “scapegoating.”
“We don’t feel like he did anything wrong,” Mr. McDonald said. “They give us quite a number of classes on ethics and it just seems to me from what I know about it that here he is looking at a situation with a ethic of leave no one behind and seeing a right way to do something.”
The Army told Mr. Hunter’s office in February that the FBI accused Col. Amerine of releasing classified information and that under the law it was obligated to begin a criminal investigation.
An Army spokesman on Thursday said: “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. However, I note that both the law and Army policy would prohibit initiating an investigation based solely on a Soldier’s protected communications with Congress.”
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