Fathers of slain US soldiers attend trial in Jordan
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Four more witnesses testified before a Jordanian military court Sunday morning in the fourth hearing of a Jordanian soldier charged with murder in the shooting of three U.S. military trainers.
The U.S. Army Green Berets were killed when their convoy came under fire at the gate of an air base in southern Jordan in November.
Jordan, a close U.S. military ally, initially said the Americans triggered the shooting by disobeying orders of Jordanian troops. Jordan later withdrew this claim and King Abdullah II exonerated the soldiers from any wrongdoing in a letter to the parents shown to The Associated Press.
Brian McEnroe and James Moriarty, fathers of two of the three slain soldiers, traveled to Amman to attend the hearing in a state security court with the alleged killer locked in a cage near the judge.
“It was a Father’s Day from Hell,” said Moriarty, a 70-year old trial lawyer from Houston.
The families are outraged over Jordan’s initial claim that the three soldiers themselves triggered the November shooting. Jordan retracted the claim but maintains the Jordanian soldiers acted properly under “the rules of engagement.”
“It seems as though the Jordanian government just wanted to bury this,” McEnroe said. “For whatever reason they’ve dishonored our boys and they’ve done it for seven months and I want to see their honor restored. It’s all they have left.”
The four witnesses were Jordanian soldiers present during the shooting who claimed the defendant, First Sgt. Marik al-Tuwayha, was a “good man” and “acting normally” the day of the shooting.
According to their testimonies, they first heard a “light burst” of gunfire coming from outside the facility while inside a rapid response vehicle at 11:45am. The witnesses said the gunfire sounded like shots from the pistols carried by the Green Berets, and not the standard-issued M-16 assault rifles carried by the Jordanians.
The witnesses claimed the gunfire intensified after five minutes, leading the Jordanians to assume the base was under attack. The Jordanians then ordered the driver of the vehicle to approach the gate and follow the rules of engagement, which allow soldiers to fire back “without orders.”
The four witnesses alleged an altercation with “loud noises” inside the base happened two days before the shooting. One witness claimed he heard gunshots. They did not elaborate further on this incident.
Judge Mohammed Afif said the shootings were a criminal matter and not linked to terrorism, and that the defendant “had no relation to any terror groups or extremist groups” during a hearing on Wednesday, June 7.
Security camera footage from the air base seemed to contradict the witnesses’ testimonies, said Moriarty, father of Staff Sgt. James “Jimbo” F. Moriarty.
“The surveillance video show and tells a very different story,” Moriarty said.
A Jordanian soldier visible in the video was closer to the Americans than the four witnesses during the attack, Moriarty and McEnroe said, and this soldier does not react until the heavy gunfire from al-Tuwayha’s machine gun kills 30-year-old Staff Sgt. Kevin J. McEnroe and Staff Sgt. Matthew C. Lewellen, of Tucson, Arizona, and Kirksville, Missouri, respectively.
A seven-minute long gun battle ensued between al-Tuwayha, Moriarty’s son and an unnamed American Green Beret, in the soundless video which the families watched at an FBI compound in the U.S. Al-Tuwayha shot at the Americans as they raised empty hands before the Jordanian killed Moriarty. While focused on Moriarty, the surviving Green Beret snuck up on and shot al-Tuwayha, severely wounding him and ending the firefight.
But Staff Sgt. Moriarty was fatally shot in those final moments.
His father said he repeatedly watched the surveillance video at an FBI office and requested, so far unsuccessfully, that it be released to the public.
Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo sought access to the video but still haven’t been able to see it. An aide to Poe said that the latter was waiting for the FBI to provide a time for the congressman to view it. The aide wasn’t authorized to discuss the case publicly and requested anonymity. McCaskill’s office couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Al-Tuwayha was seriously wounded in the incident, but has recovered and stood in the courtroom throughout all hearings, facing the judge. He pleaded “not guilty” last Wednesday claiming he acted correctly under the rules of engagement.
“I don’t know enough about the geopolitics of Israel versus Jordan versus Syria versus Iraq, who is really our friends or not, but I’ll tell you something: Friends don’t lie to friends. Friends don’t murder sons and daughters of friends. Friends don’t make up stories again and again and again,” Moriarty said.
Four more witnesses will be called to testify Monday.
Associated Press writer Josh Lederman in Washington, D.C contributed to this report.