The fathers of three Green Berets killed last fall in Jordan on Tuesday said Army and FBI investigations show that a Jordanian gate guard murdered their sons at close range.
In a rare public appearance in Washington, D.C., the grieving families and lawmakers demanded that the White House take action against the Jordanian government, which is still calling the incident a mistake.
Brian McEnroe, Chuck Lewellen and James Moriarty -- fathers of the slain soldiers -- held a press conference at the National Press Club to share new details of the events that unfolded Nov. 4 when Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew C. Lewellen, 27, of Lawrence, Kansas; Staff Sgt. Kevin J. McEnroe, 30, of Tucson, Arizona; and Staff Sgt. James F. Moriarty, 27, of Kerrville, Texas, were shot and killed by security forces while entering Al-Jafr Air Base.
"They were simply murdered by an allied officer of the Jordanian Army," Lewellen said.
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Michael Short, a spokesman at the White House, referred questions about the matter to the Defense Department. Navy Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman, referred questions about the case to U.S. Special Operations Command. Col. Tom Davis, a spokesman for the command, sent a link to a statement on a website that didn't open.
An investigation by a joint U.S.-Jordanian committee found the "absence of premeditated intentions by M'aarek Abu Tayeh," the shooter, according to a March 6 letter from Dina Kawar, ambassador of the Kingdom of Jordan, to Rep. Ted Poe, a Republican from Texas, and made available at the press conference.
Jordan is a key U.S. ally and member of a U.S.-led military coalition fighting militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, which controls parts of neighboring Iraq and Syria.
Reports of the incident accuse the Americans of failing to stop at the gate and also of having a negligent discharge, which allegedly caused security guards to panic and open fire.
All three fathers said they were briefed by the Army and the FBI on Feb. 28 and shown a detailed video of the shooting that refutes those accounts.
"There were two different reports that the Jordanian press released, and both of them accused our men of doing something wrong," Chuck Lewellen told reporters.
"Let me be clear: The men followed procedure for entering the checkpoint," he added. "They did not charge the gate, nor was there any accidental discharge of a weapon."
Lewellen described what occurred as the handful of American vehicles slowly drove through the security gate.
"Vehicle number one went through the gate with no problems," he said. "Vehicle number two being driven by Staff Sgt. McEnroe and my son, Sgt. 1st Class Lewellen, was going through with no problem."
Lewellen said, "I have watched the video showing their murders. Here is what happens next: There is a guard shack they must go by. The guard shack is a concrete hut with a sliding window that they must pass."
The guard shack is also covered with camo netting, making it difficult to see inside the shack, he said.
"As they pulled even with the sliding window, they were ambushed from mere feet away by a Jordanian officer, who was inside the guard shack with an M16, with accurate and lethal precision," Lewellen said. "There was no warning for my son or Staff Sgt. McEnroe."
The shooter, Abu Tayeh, heard gunshots near the main entrance to the base and believed it was under attack, according to the letter from the Jordanian embassy. "The gun he used in the incident was [an] M16, which he made ready upon hearing gunshots," it states.
The fathers of the fallen soldiers dispute this characterization of events. They say there were no gunshots and that the shooter was lying in wait.
After shooting the two Americans, Abu Tayeh then left the safety of his guard shack to pursue Staff Sgt. Moriarty and another Special Forces soldier, Lewellen said.
"Because of the surveillance video, we know that Kevin and Matt's survival chances were almost zero, caught completely by surprise by a Jordanian soldier," Moriarty said.
"They died mercifully and quickly in a hail of gunfire. My son, Staff Sgt. James Moriarty, would not be so lucky."
Moriarty's son "Jimmy and a fellow Special Forces soldier I will call 'Mike,' exited their truck just in time to avoid being killed in cold blood," Moriarty said.
The video contained no audio, but Moriarty said he was told that his son and Mike would spend the next several minutes trying to communicate with the shooter in both English and in Arabic.
"My son and the survivor held their hands up and communicated that they were not a threat," said the former U.S. Marine. "They tried to signal to the Jordanians. There were five Jordanian soldiers who were no more than 200 yards down the road … and that is how I watched my son die."
The shooter then makes a last assault on the two soldiers, Moriarty said.
"Mike is caught by surprise and Jimmy stands up in full view of the shooter, and he engages him," said Moriarty, describing the distance as just a few feet.
"My son takes a couple of assault rifle rounds in the chest. Mike, using that opportunity, is seen circling around the Jersey barrier and finally he empties his gun in the side of the Jordanian soldier, where he is able to put rounds" between his body armor.
The fathers were flanked lawmakers including Poe and Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii, who introduced the bipartisan Stop Arming Terrorists Act in December. Also in attendance was Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Texas.
All of the fathers are demanding that the Trump administration take some kind of action toward Jordan.
"Over four months have passed since our boys were murdered. None of our families has heard any apology, condolences or explanation from the Jordanians other than these false narratives," McEnroe said.
"In my mind, Jordan is at the very least guilty of complicity in the murder of three American brave servicemen," he said.
"We are told that Jordan is an important ally in the war on terror -- a war which I support -- but I encourage our president and our administration to take a hard look at our relationship with an ally who would so callously disrespect the sacrifice made by our boys," McEnroe said.
All three fathers said they were very appreciative of the work of the Army and FBI to help them understand what happened.
"What we do not know is why it happened or when Jordan will be held accountable, and we do not know why Jordan continues to lie about what happened even this moment," Moriarty said, adding that he knows that the video was shown to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on March 3.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.