If you think no one takes Amazon book reviews seriously, rest assured that the US Army certainly does. Jacob Siegel reports at The Daily Beast that the Army opened a probe of a Medal of Honor recipient after he was mentioned in a comment written by another decorated war veteran, whose actions came under question after he began criticizing the war effort:
Will Swenson is officially an American war hero, awarded the Medal of Honor, the military’s most prestigious decoration for his actions in Afghanistan. But in the eyes of the Army, he was, for a time, a target of surveillance. Army investigators staked out his house. They went through his trash. And it all started because Swenson was mentioned in a book review posted to Amazon.com.
The Army’s treatment of Swenson is one of a number of high-profile cases where the military has launched investigations into highly-decorated troops—only to have the investigations themselves come under scrutiny. Top congressmen have demanded answers from the Secretary of the Army, while insiders speculate that the deep dive into Swenson’s life was a political stunt. Before President Obama gave Swenson the Medal of Honor, he was known as much for his stinging criticism of Army leadership as he was for his heroism at the Battle of Gangal.
“There’s good reason to suspect that the investigation into Swenson was really about his award, his criticism of the Army, and the hope that agents would find something to shut him up,” said a source knowledgeable about the investigation. “All of the details the Army was looking to confirm were all within their reach from the beginning, without speaking to Swenson.”
The story began in 2011, and had nothing to do with Swenson, at least not directly. Bing West’s book The Wrong War drew an approving comment from Matt Golsteyn in February 2011, who received the Silver Star for his actions in Afghanistan. The Pentagon later rescinded that award after investigating him for violating the rules of engagement, a charge they have never brought against Golsteyn to this day.
After reading the comment, though, Army investigators thought Swenson might be a witness to a potential war crime. One would think that investigators would have pursued Swenson directly, given his own meritorious service and standing, but Swenson spends considerable time in seclusion in the wilderness. Instead of waiting for him to be available, though, investigators began harassing neighbors and Swenson’s girlfriend, even — as Mak notes — going through his trash. Bear in mind that there was no basis to think that Swenson himself committed any violations of the ROEs, nor as it turned out did they charge Golsteyn either.
Not surprisingly, Swenson demanded answers from the Army’s CID group about their behavior. Also not surprisingly, they didn’t provide any. Now members of Congress are making the same demands. Perhaps we’ll see soon why the Army spent so much of its time harassing a Medal of Honor recipient and his community over an offhand comment in an Amazon book review. At the very least, we should get an answer as to why a military fighting one hot war and supporting another has this much time on their hands.
Update: I incorrectly identified Tim Mak as the author of the Daily Beast article; it was actually Jacob Siegel. I’ve fixed the reference above, and my sincere apologies to Mr. Siegel.