Controversial Green Beret Retires Quietly With High Award

Lt. Col. Jason Amerine waits to testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing titled, "Blowing the Whistle on Retaliation: Accounts of Current and Former Federal Agency Whistleblowers," on June 11 in Washington. Susan Walsh/AP

Updated | Legendary Green Beret officer Jason Amerine, who was subjected to a nine-month criminal investigation after he criticized the FBI's hostage rescue efforts, was awarded one of the military's highest decorations, the Legion of Merit, in a quiet retirement ceremony Friday at the Pentagon.

"Intentionally or not, it was an admission of guilt" for subjecting the war hero to a criminal probe last year because he had discussed the FBI's poor hostage-rescue record with a member of Congress, said an Army officer who attended the ceremony. The officer spoke on a not-for-attribution basis because of the issue's continuing sensitivity. At the time he spoke with the member of Congress, Lieutenant Colonel Amerine was in charge of the Army's effort to find and rescue Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

Amerine was one of the Army's most celebrated soldiers for his heroic actions in combat in Afghanistan soon after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Vastly outnumbered by the Taliban, his team earned three Silver Stars, seven Bronze Stars and 11 Purple Hearts for routing the insurgents. His story was immortalized in The Only Thing Worth Dying For, a New York Times best-seller. In January 2002, President George W. Bush made him a guest of honor at his State of the Union address.

But Amerine ran afoul of the FBI when he told Representative Duncan Hunter, a Marine veteran and Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, how bureaucratic politics had scuttled a deal he had worked out with the Taliban for Bergdahl's release. When the FBI learned of Amerine's criticism, it complained to the Army's chief of staff for intelligence, General Mary Legere, who prompted the Criminal Investigation Command to open an investigation. Amerine's pay was halted, he was booked and fingerprinted, and his retirement was put on hold. Bergdahl, meanwhile, was released on far worse terms than Amerine worked out, according to a Newsweek investigation in September.

On Monday, Hunter blasted the FBI and top Army brass, saying " the FBI wanted Jason out of the way...and the Army took the bait, investigating Jason for reasons that were unsupported by any of the facts." But in the end, Hunter added, "the Army did the right thing and cleared Jason of any wrongdoing, and allowed one of its decorated heroes to retire" with the Legion of Merit, "an award that is a fitting capstone to his distinguished career."

Friday's ceremony "was beautiful, just an amazing moment," Amerine said in an interview with Newsweek. In a statement he was preparing for his Facebook page, he called the retaliation against him "inevitable, because our First Amendment right to speak to Congress is so often disregarded by our own government." But he also refused to blame the Army as a whole for the "runaway" investigation of him.

"It was Greek tragedy that a senior Army officer dragged the Army ignominiously into this by initiating the illegal investigation," he said. "The hostage issues I raised had nothing to do with the Army and everything to do with broken institutions at the agency level that refused to admit their faults. At least the fratricide was not lethal this time. But it soiled all of us."

Upwards of 60 supporters attended Friday's ceremony, held in a small amphitheater in the Pentagon basement. One of them was Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a private Washington, D.C.-based group that champions whistleblowers who expose government waste, fraud and abuse.

"For nearly a year, LTC Jason Amerine, a true American hero, has been under criminal investigation for speaking to Congress about the US's totally dysfunctional hostage recovery process," Brian said in a statement for Newsweek. "When anyone brings concerns of wrongdoing to Congress they are supposed to be protected under the law. But in fact, it took Jason assembling his 'last guerrilla army' of Congressional supporters, POGO, and a few courageous military officers acting behind the scenes to prevent a court martial."

Brian praised Hunter's support for Amerine and blasted the Pentagon's inspector general for "spectacularly" failing to protect Amerine's whistleblower rights. "It is time to get his mugshot, fingerprints and DNA removed from the criminal database and tackle the organizations and laws that failed him," she said.

An Army spokeswoman said the Army would have no comment until Monday.

The Legion of Merit is "one of the U.S. military's most prestigious awards, ranking just below the Silver Star, and ahead of the Distinguished Flying Cross," according to the Army Times newspaper. "It is one of only two decorations to be issued as neck wear, the other being the Medal of Honor."

Amerine wrote that he could not thank his friends and supporters "enough for standing by me all these months. Instead of highlighting anyone, I will simply thank everyone. I don't write this to declare victory; the issue was the hostages and I was a distraction from my own cause."

"The U.S. ability to free them is finally being repaired," he added, "but has a long, long way to go before it is more than an ad hoc solution to a crisis we took too long to identify."

This story has been updated to include Rep. Duncan Hunter's comment on the Amerine case.