Friday, July 28, 2017

28-Jul-17: In Jordan, a choice among honor and pride and those lying security cameras

Innocent blood spilled by a Jordanian again and the word on
their minds - again - is "honor". Their own honor. [Image Source]
There's a lot to be learned about having a neighbour like Jordan. And about how truth is perceived when the issue is really about honor - Jordanian honor.

Three recent events - the cold-blooded murder of three US Green Berets, the stabbing attack inside the Israeli diplomatic residence, the unprovoked fatal shooting attack launched on the Temple Mount by three members of the same clan - all triggered Jordanian responses that are worth trying to understand.

We are focused on the first of them now: the November 4, 2016 murder of three Green Berets at the entrance to the King Faisal Air Base at al-Jafr in the desert of southern Jordan:
As one of the United States’ staunchest allies in the Middle East, the Jordanians and their military installations are no strangers to U.S. forces coming and going from their gates. Yet in the hours and initial weeks after the attack, Jordanian officials painted a murky picture of what had happened. Immediately following the shootout, they indicated that the Americans had run the gate, failing to stop as instructed. When U.S. officials questioned that account, Jordanian authorities suggested there had been an accidental discharge in one of the Americans’ vehicles that led to the shootout. ["Five minutes and a gunfight for survival: An anatomy of the attack on U.S. Green Berets in Jordan", Washington Post, July 27, 2017]
Relatively little attention was paid in the news media to the murders when they happened. But we noticed:  "18-Nov-16: American service personnel killings in the Mid East get scant reporting and even less comprehension"; "28-Apr-17: Calling the Jordanians to account for the cold-blooded murder of three Green Berets"; and "29-May-17: In Jordan, lives, deaths and separating truth from politically-correct illusions".

The initial report carried by the New York Times downplayed the circumstances:
The Jordanian military said the trainers failed to stop as they approached a gate at the air base in the southern part of the country... A Jordanian military official, who declined to be identified discussing a matter that is now under investigation, said the trainers had tried to enter the base in a vehicle without heeding the orders of guards at the gate to stop... Jordanian officials said privately that initial indications suggested the shooting at the King Faisal air base near Al Jafr on Friday stemmed from some sort of confusion rather than deliberate targeting of the Americans. But American military officials had questions about this version of events. American soldiers certainly know to slow or stop at military base gates, whether in Jordan or anywhere else in the world. It was not clear whether the Americans who were killed were driving or being driven... Security experts in Washington and Amman were concerned that the shooting might reflect increasing radicalization in Jordan... [New York Times. November 4, 2016]
All the factual claims by the Jordanians now turn out to be nonsense. This Jordanian security cam video [here] of the entire sequence of events - which was not shown to the Jordanian military court or published before the trial - is chilling even without a sound track and makes for hard viewing.

But all the way back in November last year. the Jordanians didn't think they had much to explain - or to apologize for - except perhaps what they termed a "split-second" mistake might have been made by their man:
Jordanian officials originally blamed the U.S. troops for breaking protocol when trying to enter the military base, but an investigation later determined the soldiers “were acting in compliance with all procedures and accepted practices,” according to a statement from a U.S. Special Operations Command in March. The Green Berets were in al-Jafar to help train Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State. ["Video shows Jordanian military guard gunning down three US Army Green Berets", The Blaze, July 26, 2017]
And as recently as March 6, 2017, Jordan's official voice in Washington DC - its ambassador, Dina Kawar, a career diplomat - wrote a confident, uncompromising rebuttal addressed to Congressman Ted Poe [letter online here - backup-archived here] denying any and all suggestions that Jordan or any Jordanian was to blame:
The incident was the result of implementation of military rules of engagement following hearing gunshot near the main entrance to the base and the subsequent belief of an ongoing attack. [The shooter] was tasked with swift response...
The shooter and the demands of his tribe: "Freedom for
the hero!" [Image Source]
But eventually, largely because of the determination of the families of the dead US soldiers, the shooter was put on trial in a Jordan military court.

There was no evidence of a split-second mistake. Instead the evidence points to
a six-minute hunt in which Abu Tayeh stalked the lightly armed Green Berets, despite repeated attempts by the Americans to show they were friendly... [Los Angeles Times, July 25, 2017]
Putting it cruelly but factually, the Green Berets were sitting ducks.

This past Sunday the shooter was convicted... leading to explosions of violent outrage on the part of his Jordanian tribesmen:
The soldier, 1st Sgt. Marik al-Tuwayha, pleaded not guilty and said he did not resent the Americans stationed at the base in al-Jafr, the Associated Press reports. He said he opened fire on the American convoy because they failed to stop at the gate, and he thought the base was under attack. After the verdict was read Tuwayha said, "I have all the respect for the king, but I was doing my job..." [NPR, July 17, 2017
His clan, the Howeitis, stand emphatically with him:
The text of an on-screen banner: "We continue our civil disobedience until justice is done for the hero. Freedom for the hero Maarek Abu Tayeh Al-Howeit."
Protester: "The trial that was held for our son, who defended the homeland and the honor of the Jordanian armed forces, which is within the soldiers' duty... He faced an American court, even though he was defending the homeland. The Americans were killed by the Free Syrian Army, which they were training at the King [sic] Faisal Air Base. It was not Maarek who did this..."
Another protester: "Everybody here understands that the court ruling was political, and had nothing to do with the legal system. The proof is that all the people of Jafr, all the eye-witnesses, saw that the clash was between the Americans and the Free Syrian Army they were training."
Yet another protester: "That soldier, Maarek Abu Tayeh, was defending the honor of Jordan, and the honor of the Jordanian armed forces. He did his duty in keeping with the rules of engagement of the Jordanian army. We had expected him to be acquitted, not to receive a life sentence..."
Woman: "All that Maarek did was his duty. He joined the army when he was 18... They know that he is brave. They know that he is a real man. He is loyal to the King and to the state. Does he deserve to be sentenced for life and to be denied of his mother?"
["Tribal Protest in Jordan following Conviction of Soldier for Murdering Three U.S. Green Berets", video clip with English translation by MEMRI, July 19, 2017; transcript here]
From the Jordanian security cam video: The Green Berets in that first
vehicle were killed instantly shortly after this image was
captured [Image Source]
Unfortunately for the Tuwayha/Al-Howeiti clan, that Jordanian security camera we mentioned above captured a six minute long high definition video record of the killings. It was released a few days ago in order, it seems, to shut down the tribe's protests. That might prove to be hopelessly optimistic.

Here's what the New York Times ["U.S. Soldier Who Survived Shootout in Jordan Tells His Story", NYT, July 25, 2017] saw when they watched it:
  • Jordanian officials at first portrayed the episode as an accident and blamed the Americans, saying that they had broken the protocol for approaching the base, and later saying that they had accidentally fired a weapon, leading the Jordanian guard to believe he was under attack.
  • But surveillance video released by the Jordanian military on Monday and an interview with the 30-year-old American staff sergeant who survived the shootout shows a far more troubling scene: a five-minute clash during which the Americans fired back, crouched behind barriers and waved their hands desperately to stop the shooting, before the Jordanian charged with an assault rifle to try to finish them off.
  • The episode has sent a chill through the normally warm relations between the United States and Jordan, one of its closest Arab allies, and spurred protests in Jordan by members of the gunman’s influential tribe, who believe he is being punished to placate a powerful ally....
  • Training missions at the military base in Jordan had become so routine that the American Special Forces soldiers there wore baseball caps instead of helmets. Most of them had been in a war zone, and Jordan felt far from one. But as their convoy crept toward an entry gate on a sweltering Friday in November, gunshots erupted from a guard post, inciting a shootout that killed three Americans, drove a wedge between crucial allies and ended with a 39-year-old Jordanian soldier sentenced to life in prison for murder.
  • “We kept yelling in English and Arabic, saying we were friends. And he kept shooting,” said the lone American soldier to survive the attack, speaking publicly for the first time about that day. “Eventually, we realized it wasn’t an accident.”
  • The gunman, First Sgt. Ma’arik al-Tawayha, a member of the Jordanian Air Force, was wounded in the fight and sentenced last week by a Jordanian military court to life in prison for the killings of Staff Sgt. Matthew C. Lewellen, 27, of Kirksville, Mo.; Staff Sgt. Kevin J. McEnroe, 30, of Tucson; and Staff Sgt. James F. Moriarty, 27, of Kerrville, Tex.
  • The soldier who survived reviewed the video with a reporter from The New York Times on Monday evening, helping to piece together what took place that day. “We were just terrified and confused,” he said. “We didn’t know what was happening, or why, or how many guys were going to come after us.”
  • The video first shows a stark desert road leading to a gate to the King Faisal Air Base in the southern Jordanian town of Al Jafr, where the American soldiers were training Syrian rebels as part of a covert program run by the Central Intelligence Agency. Four trucks are returning from morning mortar training and slowly approach the gate as a Jordanian soldier removes two roadblocks. Standing just off camera was Sergeant Tawayha, a familiar presence at the base, who had probably seen Special Forces pass through the gate twice a day, according to the staff sergeant.
  • For reasons still in dispute, Sergeant Tawayha suddenly began to fire, peppering the second truck with at least 30 shots at close range, killing Sergeant Lewellen and Sergeant McEnroe.
  • The video has no sound, but the staff sergeant said the gunfire that followed was punctuated with screaming from both sides, with the gunman telling them to put their hands up, and the Americans yelling back that they are friends. To try to appease the gunman, they pop their heads up, raising their arms without their guns to indicate a cease-fire, then duck quickly as explosions of dust show bullets hitting the barricade inches from their heads. “I put my gun down, raised my hands a little and he took a shot at me,” the staff sergeant said. “That is when we decided this probably was not an accident.”
  • The soldiers were trapped... “We were trying to wave and we’re getting shot at,” the staff sergeant said. “I gave up with trying to figure stuff out and told him we should just try to kill this guy.” Both had two full magazines left — a total of 60 rounds — but they needed a better defensive position. After nearly four minutes, they sprinted behind their trucks to other concrete barriers farther from the gate... The video shows Sergeant Tawayha run toward the trucks with his rifle leveled. He hides behind the first truck, firing at the Americans, then walks to the second, slowly trying to flank them. Finally, Sergeant Tawayha rushes the Americans with a burst of fire. Both Americans fire their pistols at point blank range, but Sergeant Tawayha shoots Sergeant Moriarty, who slumps to his knees, then collapses...
  • They kept yelling in Arabic and English that they were friends and offered to go away if the guard stopped shooting, but clouds of dust continued to explode as shots hit the barricades.
There are societies and cultures where a high-resolution video record would have an influence on what people understand actually happened. Not in Jordan or not for these Jordanians:
  • The release has done little to calm Sergeant Tawayha’s tribe, the Howeitat... Many still believe that Sergeant Tawayha was doing his duty and is being punished to please the United States... “It is not right, but our government is looking for cash and they’ll do anything to get it [from the Americans presumably],” his brother, Abdul-Rahman Abu Tayeh, said in an interview... “But since the ruling, they are not welcome here.” [The bullet points above are all direct quotes from "U.S. Soldier Who Survived Shootout in Jordan Tells His Story", New York Times, July 25, 2017
Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew C. Lewellen, 27, of Lawrence, Kansas with his parents
Staff Sgt. Kevin J. McEnroe, 30, of Tucson, Arizona
Staff Sgt. James F. (Jimmy) Moriarty, 27, of Kerrville, Texas
The heavily-armed Jordanian kills three of his country's guests, men whom he encountered daily in his work as a guard, while they - for all practical purposes unarmed and lacking armor - shouted "We're Americans! We're friendly!"

And it's his people who are furious, raging, demanding justice.

Sergeant Tawayha's story is shown to be self-serving, exaggerated, inaccurate, impossible, wrong. But for the Jordanians, all that is of no significance. They want vengeance from those he murdered. And it's themselves they view as wronged.

On that note, please - if you haven't already - see what we wrote here yesterday ["26-Jul-17: We listened carefully to Jordan's minister and we have 10 questions"]. It addresses the painful issue of the yawning chasm between Jordan's aggressive demands for justice and morality and (let's not forget) honor, and the justice and morality and lack of elementary respect the Hashemite Kingdom actually practices. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is not only Arab honor that is implicated but the religious supremacism that is at the base of Islam - which itself derives from tribal culture. According to Sharia (in no matter what form its defenders claim), the life of a Muslim is superior to that of a non-believer. Therefore, when, as here, a Muslim kills Christians, whether intentionally or accidentally is of no moment, there is no legitimate reason to punish the perpetrator. We see precisely the same dynamic playing out in what, in any other circumstance, would be viewed as an outrageous breach of international protocol for which Jordan should be apologizing: the attack in the Israeli Consulate in Amman that resulted in the death of the Arab assailant (who claimed he was defending al-Aqsa which, of course, is in danger of nothing beyond Muslim misuse as an arms depot) and an innocent civilian. Instead, Jordan initially held the entire staff hostage and has now moved to prosecute the wounded victim of the attack for murder.
The bottom line is that this mentality is one of "honor" but, significantly, underpinned by theological imperatives which makes it even more intractable. In a very important way that we ignore at our peril, it is a very different way of looking at the world, one that is alien to the 21st century West. It is a problem Israel has faced for decades, often with little or no support (and occasional outright opposition) from Western countries who imagined that this issue was limited to Islam's denigration of the Jews and so was not their problem if they toed the Arab line. Now, with jihad terror escalating and many Western countries targeted, it has become an issue with which the West is forced to come to terms.
While one might wish it were otherwise, we cannot be naive about the depth of the problem.