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Navy SEALS tragedy in Afghanistan chronicled in new film, “Lone Survivors”

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Patrick Robinson knows about war.

Though born in England, Robinson’s family has deep roots in Ireland, and a great uncle of his even fought in the Easter Rising in 1916.

Nearly 100 years later, Robinson – who lived for over a decade in Ireland before recently moving –  helped Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell tell the unforgettable story that is at the heart of the film "Lone Survivor," which opens on December 27 and stars Mark Wahlberg.

Luttrell was one of four Navy SEALs on a June 2005 mission in Afghanistan’s Kunar province. The mission was compromised and the team came under heavy Taliban fire.

Luttrell’s team included Long Island native and Irish American Lieutenant Mike Murphy, who sacrificed his own life by exposing himself to enemy fire in an effort to radio for help. Murphy was indeed killed, and became the first serviceman in Afghanistan to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

Unfortunately the mission took an even darker turn. A missile struck the helicopter carrying servicemen hoping to save Murphy, Luttrell and the rest of the SEALs, killing all 16 men on board.

The release of "Lone Survivor" is sure to bring renewed attention to Lutrell, Murphy and the bravery and sacrifice of those who fell that day.

Robinson, though, is now out telling a new story of bravery involving Irish Americans. This story’s ending is not as tragic as the one that inspired "Lone Survivor," but the soldiers faced terrible adversity on and off the battlefield.

“It really is a shocking story,” Robinson told me in a phone interview last week.

Robinson explores the saga of Navy SEALs Matthew McCabe and Jonathan Keefe in his new book "Honor and Betrayal," which, according to its sub-title, tells the story “of the Navy SEALs who captured the Butcher of Fallujah – and the shameful ordeal they later endured.”

This story has gotten particularly strong coverage among conservatives, who view it as proof that military brass has become timid during the Obama administration. Maybe, maybe not. But you don’t have to be a Fox-News-loving, Obama-hating right winger to see that what McCabe and Keefe endured is terrible.

This whole saga began, horrifically, on March 31, 2004, in the battle-scarred Iraqi city of Fallujah. On that fateful day, Iraqi insurgents attacked a U.S.-led convoy and eventually killed four private contractors. Video of the attack showed Iraqis triumphantly dragging the victims’ corpses through the streets.

Intelligence suggested the mastermind of the contractors’ murders was Ahmad Hashim Abd al-Isawi, the so-called “Butcher of Fallujah.”

Five years went by before military officials believed they had a chance to apprehend the notorious butcher. Enter Navy SEALs McCabe (who grew up outside of Toledo, Ohio) and Keefe (from Virginia), members of a team charged with conducting a nighttime raid on a house believed to contain al-Isawi.

McCabe led the team into the house and while searching came upon a man matching al-Isawi’s description, who was also reaching for a gun when confronted by McCabe.

Initial reports suggest the apprehension of al-Isawi was “textbook.”  However, al-Isawi later claimed he was beaten and abused, and offered up the blood on his shirt as proof. McCabe and Keefe were eventually courtmartialed.

Robinson and others, however, note that al Qaeda leaders often encourage anyone captured by Americans to claim abuse at the hands of their captors.

A few years back, with the prisoner abuse of Abu Ghraib still fresh in international minds, military officials were apparently nervous about yet another scandal. So Keefe, McCabe and an additional SEAL were encouraged to confess to their own misdeeds.

They refused, arguing they had nothing to confess. Robinson believes the blood was the result of a sore on al-Isawi’s lip.

In the spring of 2010, Keefe and McCabe were found not guilty by a military jury.

As the war on terror drags on, it’s important to remember that the survivor in the Hollywood movie may indeed be “lone.”  However, he is far from alone when it comes to enduring the horrors of war.

(Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.net)

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