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How Petraeus can redeem himself

| Friday, April 5, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

Talk is cheap, Gen. Petraeus. Judging by your recent coming-out party at a University of Southern California dinner to honor the military — your first public foray since you disappeared in a cloud of Paula Broadwell — whatever advice you've been buying seems to be working. You came, you apologized, you received a standing ovation. The media melted all over again into a puddle of admiration, further obscuring the real reasons you should be not apologizing before a gala crowd but, instead, testifying before the American people: those national scandals you have so far successfully left in your dust.

I have previously addressed such scandals and will do so again: possibly lying twice to the House Intelligence Committee about Benghazi; causing death and dismemberment of U.S. forces by directing them to walk the IED-packed roads of Afghanistan as part of a counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy to win Afghans' “trust”; and your see-no-Islam COIN strategy itself.

Here's an idea to make us trust the sincerity of your call to help veterans and their families. Take that apparently bulletproof reputation of yours and use it to seek clemency for the so-called Leavenworth 10.

This tag refers to a group of American soldiers now serving long-prison terms mainly at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., for “crimes” committed on your COIN battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since it was you who ordered these young men into the hostile urban combat zones in Iraq to win “hearts and minds,” it should now be you who leads them out of their living hells.

Long after the U.S. government has released tens of thousands of insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan — including Hezbollah mastermind Musa Daqduq, for example — it is time for you, the leading general in these wars, to declare that these young Americans have been punished enough.

I refer, for example, to 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, the elite Army Ranger whose last-ditch interrogation of an al-Qaida terrorist ended when, as forensic evidence indicates, he killed the detainee he was questioning in self-defense.

There is Pvt. Corey Clagett, the most junior and the only imprisoned member of an Army squad implicated in following direct orders to shoot captured Iraqi insurgents in Operation Iron Triangle. Corey was sentenced to 18 years; cruelly and unusually, he has already spent nearly seven years in solitary confinement.

There is Sgt. Evan Vela, the first-tour Army sniper whose commander ordered him to kill a captured Iraqi struggling to blow the squad's cover behind enemy lines. He was sentenced to 10 years. There is also Sgt. Derrick Miller, an Army National Guard veteran of Afghanistan, who, during a harsh interrogation, killed in self-defense an Afghan who had penetrated his squad's defensive perimeter. He received life in prison, with the possibility of parole in 10 years.

All of these young Americans marched into the cross-hairs of COIN. These men managed to stay alive. According to COIN, that's their main offense.

You, Gen. Petraeus, could go a long way to change that by pleading for their clemency in the name of healing, even as you plead your own. The war is over in Iraq; it is winding down in Afghanistan. Such humbling efforts would represent a new beginning for them — and for you.

Diana West's new book is “American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character,” forthcoming in May.

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