April 04, 2008

Crapo And Simpson Ask For Clemency For Vela

Idaho soldier followed orders of superior in battle

Washington, DC - Idaho Senator Mike Crapo and Idaho 2nd District Representative Mike Simpson are asking U.S. military authorities to grant clemency to Sergeant Evan Vela, who was court martialed and convicted of murder without premeditation by a military court in February 2008. In separate letters to Major General Rick Lynch, Crapo and Simpson outlined their concerns with the conviction and the precedent it set regarding soldiers following military orders.

In his letter, dated March 7, 2008, Crapo wrote: "Soldiers are trained to follow orders issued to facilitate order and safety on the battlefield. When orders issued in high stress situations, such as Sgt. Vela found himself, contravene order, safety and perhaps the Rules of Engagement, more than one individual must be held accountable for the outcome, and the responsibility for errors in judgment must be shared by all involved. The outcome of this case could create an environment where under fire or in a threatening situation [a soldier] could hesitate to defend themselves or their comrades from a perceived threat. In my view, the final judgment in Sgt. Vela's case calls into question the standard evaluation of basic rules of engagement, creating uncertain and dangerous operational environments for commanders and soldiers involved in day-to-day combat missions."

In Simpson's letter of April 3, 2008, he wrote: "In addition to conflicting accounts of the rules of engagement, I also have strong concerns over reports of Sgt. Vela's physical and mental conditions at the time of the incident," said Simpson. "There are a number of mitigating factors and extenuating circumstances in this case that make a compelling argument for clemency."

Copies of both letters accompany this news release and are also available on the Congressmen's respective websites.

Vela, who is originally from St. Anthony, Idaho, was assigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska. He was convicted of killing an unarmed Iraqi civilian and planting evidence on the body. Throughout the investigation and trial, Vela has maintained, and his superior officers have confirmed, that Vela and fellow soldiers were following orders during the incident, which occurred in May 2007 near Iskandariyah, Iraq, which is about 30 miles south of Baghdad.