A combat-decorated Green Beret told Congress today that he fell under criminal investigation by the Army this year after informing Congress about a scuttled deal he tried to cut with the Taliban to free Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl along with all of the American and Canadian civilian hostages held by terrorists in Pakistan.
"Warren Weinstein is dead. Colin Rutherford, Joshua Boyle, Caitlin Coleman and the child she bore in captivity are still hostages in Pakistan. I failed them. I exhausted all efforts and resources available to return them but I failed," Army Special Forces Lt. Col. Jason Amerine said before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
President Obama recently announced that Weinstein, a USAID worker held for years, was accidentally killed along with an Italian aid worker in a CIA drone strike on a Pakistan al Qaeda hideout last January. Coleman is an American, who, along with her Canadian husband Boyle and their unborn child, were taken hostage in Afghanistan two years ago possibly by the Haqqani Taliban network. Rutherford also is a Canadian.
At a hearing looking into retaliation against federal whistleblowers, Amerine's testimony is startling, not just for his extraordinary claims of bureaucratic infighting that failed to free at lease five hostages held by the Haqqanis and their longtime al Qaeda allies. But also because the be-medaled operator will be that rare whistleblower to appear in uniform before the committee as a living Army legend lionized as both a literal toy soldier action figure in the Army's "Real Heroes" line and as a character in an associated Army-produced video game used successfully for soldier recruiting.
Amerine received the Bronze Star with "V" for "Valor" device for his service in Afghanistan, where he led the Special Forces Operational Detachment-Alpha team that protected Hamid Karzai after 9/11 as the future Afghan president drummed up Pashtun tribal support to lead the country.
Now he joins critics of the failed U.S. hostage policy -- currently under review by a former Army Delta Force commander at the National Counterterrorism Center -- such as Diane and John Foley, whose son James Foley was a journalist beheaded by ISIS in Syria in a grisly video last August.
Amerine claims he led a highly-secret Pentagon team tasked with finding ways to recover Americans held captive in Pakistan's tribal areas -- until a "dysfunctional" bureaucracy bungled the mission on the verge of success.
"In early 2013, my office was asked to help get Sgt. Bergdahl home. We informally audited the recovery effort and determined that the reason the effort failed for four years was because our nation lacks an organization that can synchronize the efforts of all our government agencies to get our hostages home. We also realized that there were civilian hostages in Pakistan that nobody was trying to free so they were added to our mission," Amerine said in his testimony.
"To get the hostages home, my team worked three lines of effort: Fix the coordination of the recovery, develop a viable trade and get the Taliban back to the negotiating table. My team was equipped to address the latter two of those tasks but fixing the government’s interagency process was beyond our capability," Amerine said.
Bergdahl was freed in 2014 after five years of captivity in a highly controversial swap for five Taliban leaders held at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Bergdahl now faces charges by the Army for deserting his post in Afghanistan and could wind up in prison for the rest of his life, if convicted.
Amerine said that he and his colleagues had designed a plan to trade an Afghan drug lord, Bashir Noorzai, for the American and Canadian hostages. Noorzai was lured to the U.S., Amerine said, where he was arrested and eventually sentenced to two life sentences on drug charges.
Amerine said his group got as far as working with Noorzai’s tribe and bringing the Taliban to the table about a deal for the drug lord, but then the State Department intervened and killed that deal in favor of the one that eventually freed Bergdahl for five Taliban fighters. Noorzai remains in a high-security prison in California.
The veteran Special Forces field-grade officer told the Senate committee that he, Amerine, also fell under criminal investigation by the Army because the FBI was irked over his criticism of how the Bureau and other agencies mismanaged the hostage crisis and for sharing his frustrations with Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a member of the House Armed Services Committee. He helped Hunter craft legislation to reform and streamline how government agencies should work jointly to handle hostage cases.
"The FBI formally complained to the Army that information I was sharing with Rep. Hunter was classified. It was not," Amerine said in his testimony, noting that federal law protects military whistleblowers. "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 Army deleted his retirement paperwork and cut off his pay temporarily recently, Amerine recounted.
"It's utterly ridiculous in my mind," Amerine said.
U.S. officials at the Department of Justice and the FBI did not immediately offer comment today regarding Amerine and his claims.
Army spokesperson Cynthia Smith said that while the service's policy dictates that they cannot confirm the names of anyone who "may or may not be under investigation," Smith noted that "both the law and Army policy would prohibit initiating an investigation based solely on a Soldier's protected communications with Congress."
A spokesperson for Hunter, in turn, said that the Army had confirmed to Hunter their investigation into Amerine for "potential unauthorized disclosures" to Congress.
"It's a sad day for the Army, in its struggle to be truthful," said Joe Kasper, Hunter's spokesperson.
Amerine plans to tell the Committee today, "You, the Congress, were my last resort to recover the hostages. But now I am a whistleblower, a term that has become radioactive and derogatory.
"And let us not forget: Warren Weinstein is dead while Colin Rutherford, Josh Boyle, Caitlin Coleman, and her child remain prisoners. Who is fighting for them?"