Washington, DC - Idaho Senator Mike Crapo and Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson are seeking a presidential pardon for Sergeant Evan Vela, a former Rexburg area resident of Idaho. The two Congressmen have sent separate letters to President Bush, citing their support for the action before Bush leaves office in January 2009. Vela was convicted by a general court-martial last February for the unpremeditated murder of an unarmed Iraqi man. Crapo and Simpson have maintained that Vela was following an order from his superior during the incident.
"The safety and success of our men and women in uniform would be seriously jeopardized if every service member was subjected to the same scrutiny for their actions during combat as in Sgt. Vela's case," Crapo wrote, adding Iraqi influence may have affected Vela's sentencing of ten years in prison at Fort Leavenworth. "It is difficult to remain confident that local Iraqi influence did not affect the outcome of this case to Sgt. Vela's detriment," Crapo added. "While similar trials have been held stateside, Sgt. Vela's remained in Baghdad, despite the redeployment of his division to Fort Richardson, Alaska."
"It became clear to me that this young Sgt. needed an advocate," said Simpson. "I've been to Iraq twice in the last four years and I know our servicemen face difficult and often confusing choices everyday on the battlefield. I am concerned that Sgt. Vela is shouldering the blame and playing the role of scapegoat for following orders throughout a series of tragic events that occurred during a time of war."
Crapo, who visited Idaho soldiers in Iraq in 2005, wrote the President that 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."
Simpson wrote, "There are a number of mitigating factors and extenuating circumstances in this case that make a compelling argument for pardon, and in accordance with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations, I urge you to consider those factors and circumstances as you consider his requests for pardon."