Special to WorldTribune.com
By Grace Vuoto
At last, there will be a congressional inquiry into the strange circumstances surrounding the fatal helicopter crash in Afghanistan in August 2011, which resulted in the deaths of 30 American service members and 8 Afghans, including elite troops from Navy SEAL Team Six, the contingent who killed Osama bin Laden a few months earlier.
“We’re going to dive into this,” ep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on National Security, told The Hill.
[See: What happened to SEAL Team Six? The most serious scandal of all – May 30, 2013]
Parents of the fallen have repeatedly asked the military top brass, including President Barack Obama, for answers to their questions. Instead of being told the truth about what happened that night, they have been bullied, mocked, intimidated, ignored and repeatedly lied to.
“My son was murdered,” said Charlie Strange in an exclusive interview with WorldTribune.com. Mr. Strange still “cries every day” over the loss of his son Michael, but he is outraged that his legitimate concerns have been routinely dismissed as merely the befuddled complaints of a “grieving father.”
Yet, he and other family members who lost their sons that evening, knew from the moment they were debriefed about the fatal crash, that the official story the American government was peddling did not make sense.
“They were talking to us like we were complete idiots,” said Mr. Strange, recalling the debriefing on Oct. 12, 2011 in Little Creek, Virginia. Brigadier General Jeffrey Colt, who conducted the investigation, attributed the shooting down of the helicopter to a “lucky shot” from the Taliban, by some low-level, lone fighter. Mr. Strange cried out that evening: “Are you kidding me? A ‘lucky shot’ would be if he had missed.”
Mr. Strange and other family members do not believe that the black box from the crash was washed away in a “flash flood,” as officials who investigated the crash claim.
In addition, “at the moment the aircraft was shot down, the satellite surveillance of a mission, known as ‘the eye in the sky,’ suddenly ‘went out’,” said Mr. Strange. Furthermore, he was told his son’s body had been burnt beyond recognition, only to later see photos of his son’s dead body lying on the ground, clutching what appears to be a gun.
To add further insult to injury, on July 22, Michael Strange was posthumously awarded The National Intelligence Medal of Valor but Mr. Strange and his wife, Mary, were not invited to the ceremony. They are “treating us like second class citizens,” said Mrs. Strange because “we dare to ask questions.”
The families of the nation’s military heroes “are not treated with respect,” said Larry Klayman, the attorney representing the families, in an interview with WorldTribune.com. He decried the lack of answers being provided and mocked the so-called “disappearance” of the black box due to a flash flood. “There has been no flood there since Noah washed away with the Ark,” he said.
He pointed out that the bodies of some of the dead soldiers were cremated without consent from family members. There are even larger issues at stake in this tragedy, he explained. There was no pre-assault fire that night. While under attack, America’s elite warriors “were not defending themselves,” he said.
“In my view, this is bigger than Benghazi,” said Mr. Klayman. “This is about how our men and women are treated. Our government has betrayed them.” At a minimum, he is calling for a correction to the rules of engagement. The focus of combat should be “defeating the enemy and protecting valued assets,” he said.
While three families have been most vocal in their outrage, the others are “scared” to speak out, said Mr. Klayman. “They fear military retaliation or being ostracized,” he said.
Mr. Klayman is encouraged that at last some members of Congress will review the evidence. “We’re going to be uncovering a very big scandal. In my opinion, this goes right to the top, to the Commander in Chief,” said the attorney.
Billy and Karen Vaughn, parents of slain Navy Seal Aaron Vaughn, spoke to WorldTribune.com about their long and difficult journey to bring the case to the attention of the national media and to members of Congress. They were deeply “disheartened,” said Mrs. Vaughn when the families held a press conference at the National Press Club in May and members of the mainstream media did not attend. “The mainstream media did nothing to help us,” said Mrs. Vaughn.
The story was kept alive by one of America’s leading talk show hosts, Michael Savage, who was the first to report it in 2011 and who immediately smelled a rat. He wrote a fictional account, A Time for War, to raise awareness. Subsequently, a handful of publications and news outlets, including Fox News and WorldTribune.com, along with a vigorous social media campaign, helped galvanize those concerned about the fate of Navy SEAL Team Six and the other warriors who died in the crash.
Nonetheless, by the time the Vaughns traveled to Washington D.C. in mid-June, they were losing hope that Congress would listen; they were also financially strained. During the first few days they met with well-meaning members of Congress who understood their plight but could do nothing.
“People we met initially in Washington, D.C. were great Americans,” said Mr. Vaughn, “but there seemed to be a block. That block is Mr. Boehner.” Republican members of Congress told the Vaughns it was unlikely House Speaker John Boehner would sanction an inquiry. Mr. Vaughn had in fact initially called Mr. Boehner’s office “over and over again,” when he received news of his son’s death. “I never, ever got a response. I never got past the secretary,” he said.
On the third day of their journey in Washington D.C., on Wednesday June 18, the Vaughns awoke with Mrs. Vaughn stating: “I wish we were not here. We’re getting nowhere.”
Yet, suddenly, a giant breakthrough occurred. While they met with a member of California Rep. Darrell Issa’s staff, for the first time since they began their quest for justice, they found someone who “knew even more about what we were talking about than we did,” said Mrs. Vaughn. He was so alarmed by their testimony that he pulled Mr. Issa out from the House floor to meet the Vaughns, Charles and Mary Strange and Mr. Klayman, who were also in attendance. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Issa called Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, into the room. The men pledged to help.
“Issa and Chaffetz have assets others do not have,“ said Mrs. Vaughn, expressing a gleam of hope that their case will result in answers to the questions they have been raising for several years.
Doug Hamburger, who lost his son Pat in the tragedy, wants answers to the key questions the other family members are raising. In an interview with WorldTribune.com, he asked also why the government’s report did not contain the astonishing fact that thirty minutes before the flight took off, seven Afghans refused to board the aircraft and were replaced with others.
“In over 12,500 pages, there is also no mention of the Afghan Command being part of the investigation, “ said Mr. Hamburger. “The Afghan Command had been part of the planning of every mission and they had lost seven soldiers, but were not part of the investigation. It doesn’t make sense.”
Mr. Hamburger asks all Americans to “keep the pressure on” the nation’s leaders to give the families answers. “We need all your help.”
Perhaps the best summary of this tale comes from Mr. Savage in his July 24th broadcast, brimming with passion, outrage and patriotism: The congressional inquiry is a “ray of light at the end of the tunnel” in a two-year battle, he said. He lambasted the “loveable, forgettable Romney” for failing to make this a central campaign story in 2012. He also blasted Republicans for not rising to the defense of “the nation’s heroes” and addressing this story earlier.
“Somebody threw them to the wolves,” said Mr. Savage. He wondered how it is possible that the commander-in-chief has not addressed an incident in which more Navy SEALS died in one conflagration than in the history of their unit.
“No one will stop until someone goes to the gallows,” vowed Mr. Savage.
Finally, two years later, Mr. Chaffetz and Mr. Issa have at last heard the anguished cries of those young men plunging mercilessly to their deaths — not merely by an act of war but possibly from acts of the most heinous treachery known to man.
Grace Vuoto is the Editor of Politics and Culture at World Tribune, host of American Heartland with Dr. Grace on WTSB Radio and is the founder of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal.