By: Zack Duvall
A Jordanian military court convicted 1st Sgt. Marik al-Tuwayha of murder on Monday, and sentenced the former Jordanian soldier to life in prison with hard labor.
On November 4, 2016, Tuwayha opened fire on three U.S. green berets, Staff Sgt. Matthew C. Lewellen, Staff Sgt. Kevin J. McEnrue, and Staff Sgt. James F. Moriety, as they waited for entry into the Jordanian al-Jafr air base in southern Jordan. All three were killed during the shooting.
Defense attorneys had claimed that Tuwayha acted in defense of the airbase after he thought he heard what he believed to be a pistol shot from the direction of the convoy that the slain U.S. service members were riding in.
However, security camera footage of the incident, that wasn’t released to the public, is reported to show Tuwayha reloading more than once and continuing to fire at the convoy for a period of over six minutes, while the three Green Berets are seen to be waving their hands and yelling “we’re Americans”.
The video, that has been shown to the families of the victims by U.S. officials, was not shown during the trial, but was used as documented evidence in the case.
The defense maintained that Tuwayha was acting in accordance with the air base’s security protocol, a claim that Jordanian officials had appeared to support when they initially issued a statement that said the Americans killed had “triggered the shooting” by not following what officials called “entry rules” for the base.
The Jordanian government quickly retracted their initial statement after severe backlash from the State Department and embassy officials.
The U.S. embassy in Jordan quickly released a statement offering praise for the outcome of the trail and the subsequent conviction and sentence handed down.
“It confirms that the U.S. service members followed all established procedures when accessing the base the day of the incident, as we have noted before. We are reassured to see the perpetrator brought to justice.” The embassy statement, released Monday evening, said of the case.
Charles Lewellen, the father of Matthew Lewellen, told reporters after the trial, that while the conviction is a “good first step” it does little to “take the pain away.”
“It proved what we have been saying all along… that he murdered our son.” He said after the sentencing.
Family members of the slain service members as well as U.S. authorities had put pressure on the judge who presided over the case, Col. Mohammed al-A feef, to give the death penalty in the case. Arguing that a life sentence wasn’t enough in the case, citing that in Jordanian courts a “life sentence” may only to amount to 20 years, if a good behavior time credit is awarded by the courts.
Judge al-A feef however, cited Tuwayha’s lack of a solid connection to extremist groups and the inability to prove a “malicious motive” by prosecutors as the reasoning for a life sentence to be handed down instead of the death penalty.
The case had serious implications for American efforts to fight ISIS in the region, as Jordan houses key American forces, such as trainers and advisers, for the current U.S. campaign in neighboring Syria. But no change in tactics or troop levels have been attributed to the case to date.
While leaving the courtroom ,after the judge announced the verdict and sentence, Tuwayha maintained he was only reacting to what he perceived as a threat and that he was innocent of any nefarious motives.
“I have all the respect for the king. But I was doing my job.” Tuwayha said as he was escorted by court officers from the courtroom Monday.
Defense attorneys are expected to file an appeal on his behalf by the start of next week.