Embattled Green Beret soldier Lt. Col. Jason Amerine retired and reclaimed his honor on Friday after the Army's criminal probe into his actions related to efforts to save Americans held captive overseas abruptly collapsed, thus ending one of the oddest chapters in what critics call an ongoing disaster of U.S. hostage recovery.
Amerine, who was awarded a Bronze Star with the Valor device for his actions in Afghanistan, for several years led a secret Pentagon office tasked with trying to find a way to free Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban. The secret group also took on the cases of other Americans and Canadians believed held by Taliban and al Qaeda in South Asia.
But in January his security clearance was suddenly pulled and his planned retirement from the Army this year postponed, when the Army launched an investigation into Amerine and his alleged leaking of classified information about hostage recovery efforts to a congressional office.
"The hostage issues I raised had nothing to do with the Army and everything to do with broken institutions at the agency level that refused to admit their faults. At least the fratricide was not lethal this time. But it soiled all of us," Amerine wrote on his Facebook page over the weekend.
This June, Amerine, whose combat heroics made him a literal Army-brand action figure sold in toy stores and a character in an Army recruiting video game, told Congress that bringing the Taliban to a negotiating table over the hostages they are believed to hold was easier than getting U.S. government bureaucracies to cooperate with each other to bring the captives home. He detailed how government officials scuttled deals he was arranging that would have brought a group of hostages home in exchange for a half-dozen Taliban detainees.
Ultimately, the Obama administration negotiated a deal in June 2014 to swap only prisoner-of-war Bergdahl for five Taliban commanders held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison.
Around the time of Amerine’s testimony a year after the Bergdahl swap, a hostage policy review by the administration resulted in the creation of a hostage fusion cell and special envoy to oversee such cases in the future.
Several Americans held hostage have met grisly ends in recent years – four at the hands of ISIS in Syria, one in a failed rescue attempt in Yemen and another, USAID worker Warren Weinstein, in a CIA drone strike that had targeted al Qaeda figures in Pakistan.
"Warren Weinstein is dead by our own hand and there are American citizens being held hostage or detained all around the world. Do you know all of their names? Neither does our government. The U.S. ability to free them is finally being repaired but has a long, long way to go before it is more than an ad hoc solution to a crisis we took too long to identify," Amerine wrote on Facebook, as first reported by Newsweek on Friday.
But it was Amerine who came under fire this year when FBI agents working hostage cases alerted the Army’s Criminal Investigative Command to what they claimed was a serious security violation stemming from Amerine's contacts with Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a military veteran on the House Armed Services Committee, and Hunter staffers who didn't hold Top Secret clearances. Amerine's own clearance was pulled, ironically, the day Weinstein was killed.
Amerine denied that he did anything wrong in his forceful testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on whistleblowers, recounting how "the FBI formally complained to the Army that information I was sharing with Rep. Hunter was classified. It was not."
"After my criminal investigation began, the FBI admitted to Rep. Hunter that they had the utmost respect for our work but they had to put me in my place. Again: the FBI made serious allegations of misconduct to the Army in order to put me in my place and readily admitted that to a U.S. Congressman," the Green Beret said at the dramatic June hearing, in which he appeared in uniform.
“Through it all, what’s most frustrating is that the FBI refused to work with Jason -- and it’s my firm belief that failures to safely recover Americans held captive in hostile areas is a direct result of that refusal," Hunter said in a statement today.
FBI officials did not offer any comment today or last June after the soldier's Senate testimony.
With the investigation dropped, the Army restored Amerine's clearances and in a surprise to him, awarded the West Point graduate on Friday at his retirement ceremony inside the Pentagon with the Legion of Merit, a medal worn about the neck which is rarely presented to officers below the rank of full colonel. The medal citation for "exceptionally meritorious service" said that from 2008 until Friday, the date of his retirement, Amerine's "standards of excellence and professionalism are unparalleled" and a credit to the U.S. military.
Only a month ago, Army investigators were fingerprinting and snapping mugshots of Amerine, who appeared headed for court-martial. The Army confirmed Amerine’s retirement today, but did not immediately comment on the CID investigation.
But as he left the Army with a clear record after 22 years as a Special Forces officer and operator, Amerine pleaded with his friends and family to remember those still in captivity, who include American hostage Caitlan Coleman and her young child believed held in Pakistan.
"The military leaves no service member behind; that is ingrained in all of us. Our country must embrace the notion that America does not leave Americans behind," he wrote on his Facebook page. "We need to find our way back to that sense of love and loyalty for our fellow citizens so we can start getting our people home."