Nine years ago during this approaching final weekend of June, 2014, a tenacious SEAL with the apparent gift of unswerving stubbornness and iron willpower tumbled a thousand feet down the side of a mountain in the Hindu Kush – again. He’d been shot repeatedly, not only broken but destroyed vertebrae in his back, and suffered an untold number of contusions and lacerations. His teammates – his brothers – had been murdered by members of the Taliban, but not before sending a staggering number of the terrorists straight to hell by way of SEAL-fired bullets. SEALs Lt. Michael Murphy, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class (SEAL) Danny Dietz, Sonar Technician 2nd Class (SEAL) Matthew Axelson and Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (SEAL) Marcus Luttrell were dropped into the treacherous mountains east of Asadabad hoping to put eyes on known terrorist Ahmad Shah. All four men waged battle heroically, but in the end, the only man left alive – if his condition could truly be called living – was Luttrell.
Now, here we are, and on Luttrell’s official Facebook page, many of his avid followers have turned rabid. Luttrell physically survived his days in Afghanistan thanks to being granted the protection of a small tribe located near the base of the mountain he had repeatedly fallen down. During his time there, he made one specific friend, an Afghani man by the name of Mohammed Gulab. Luttrell has always been clear he feels he owes his life to Gulab, and the two have maintained a friendship all these years. Gulab has flown to Texas to visit the former SEAL, at Luttrell’s expense, and it has been said time and again that Luttrell was trying to help Gulab obtain a green card. The reason for the tide of combined disbelief and anger rising on Facebook and countless websites centers around Gulab. According to a website by the name of Vocativ.com, Luttrell has all but abandoned Gulab, and the Afghani man is understandably in fear for his life back home in Afghanistan.
“The truth is not in the commercial media because the truth is a dagger pointed at its heart, which is its pocketbook.” George Seldes
The writers at Vocativ have a bit of a reputation already, despite the site’s newness – they were just recently launched in 2014. Their reporters hail from the Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, and Vanity Fair, among others. They are a staunchly liberal cast of characters if there ever was one. Conservative writers such as myself would hardly be granted a second glance before being tossed off the proverbial roof. That is not to say they are without reporting skills, or that they never write anything accurate, because the Vocativ team certainly has talent. It’s the direction they choose to aim their combined talents in that gives one pause.
Perusing the journalistic histories of Vocativ’s staff, a disturbing theme is set. There’s an article blaming US forces for the rapes and assaults carried out by Afghan Local Police (ALP), who villagers – and the writer – say are “under the control of American soldiers.” Another proclaims our American military’s “invasion” of Muslim countries and accuses us of murdering children. According to that same article, America’s image is forever ruined in the Muslim world, something this writer has an incredibly difficult time seeing as a bad thing.
“The thought that so many people get their news from social media really is scary.” Rush Limbaugh
In the article lambasting Luttrell for the alleged ignoring and severing of ties with Gulab, Vocativ does a fantastic job painting the heroic SEAL as a self-centered, Hollywood-power-hungry jerk. According to the article, Luttrell promised to help get Gulab a green card – something he actually did work hard to try to obtain for the Afghani man, by the way – and then basically dropped it. They also say that, after the movie premier of Lone Survivor, for which Gulab had been granted a temporary visa and put up at the home of an interpreter, Luttrell simply abandoned Gulab. A quote from the piece asserts Gulab said, after promoting the movie, “Marcus [had] absolutely disconnected himself.” One might wonder where they obtained such a grammatically-correct quote from an Afghani man who barely speaks a word of English.
Throughout the piece facts are listed with absolute inaccuracy and the site’s apparent history of disliking the American military shines through. Mohammed Gulab is referred to as the man who “stumbled upon” Luttrell at a waterfall, when, in reality, it was a man from the same village who identified himself as their doctor and gave the name Sarawa who found Luttrell that day nine years ago. It also credits the reason the tribe protected the seriously injured SEAL to Pashtunwali, which the article says “mandates Pashtuns should protect everyone in need.” However, Pashtunwali is actually the unwritten ethical code the Pashtun people live by; basically it is a group of laws and governances created over centuries. Luttrell was protected under what the Pashtun people call lokhay warkawal, which is literally translated as “giving of a pot.” It means the person, or persons, under lokhay warkawal are entitled to the full security and protection of the tribe, regardless of the danger or death it may inflict upon the protecting tribe. Although it is a part of Pashtunwali, it is not actually Pashtunwali, just as the First Amendment is a part of the Constitution but absolutely not the Constitution itself. Interestingly, there is brief mention that during Gulab’s stay for the movie premier, he says he was so desperate for “air” he “smashed a window” at the home of the interpreter where he was being hosted. Not exactly the behavior of a grateful guest.
“All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.” Marshall McLuhan
Of course there is a kernel of truth found within the dregs of their work. Mohammed Gulab, the son of the village elder of the tribe where Luttrell was protected, became the SEAL’s friend during the course of his wait for rescue by American troops. According to Luttrell, the two have remained friends over the years and have visited on more than one occasion. As for Gulab’s green card, Luttrell did, indeed, try to help him get one. And of course it is true Gulab’s life is being threatened by the Taliban as a result of his part in saving Luttrell’s life. The fury the Taliban has held for years was certainly reignited by the release of the movie Lone Survivor. When Gulab visited Washington D.C. with Luttrell, the former SEAL introduced him to Texas congresswoman Kay Granger in the hopes she could help the Afghan obtain his green card. And when it became clear Gulab would be unable get a green card in a timely manner, Luttrell bluntly informed Gulab he needed to seek asylum in the United States. Gulab refused.
So who do we blame? The Afghan man who played an important part in saving a horrendously wounded American’s life? The SEAL who fought so valiantly alongside his brothers, only to come out the other side alone and with life-long chronic pain of every kind? The United States government? When reading something like Vocativ’s content, it is of the utmost important to consider the source. Their story has spread like wildfire, picked up and paraphrased by Allen West and other sites, conservative and liberal alike. Site after site lists their source as Vocativ, which just goes to show you how easily the childhood game of telephone functions in the world of adults and the media.
“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” Winston Churchill
Here are the facts: During the course of Operation Red Wings, nineteen SEALs and Night Stalkers were killed. Mohammed Gulab was not the man who first found Luttrell, he is the son of the tribe’s village chief, and befriended the injured SEAL during his time there. Luttrell has repeatedly and publicly declared his love and gratitude for Gulab and his tribesmen and has visited with Gulab in the States more than once. Luttrell did work to help Gulab get a green card, wanting to help not only the Afghan man but his wife and children as well. When he realized the delay in obtaining the card could endanger the family, he urged Gulab to seek asylum. We may never know why Gulab refuses to seek asylum, but the Afghan himself has stated repeatedly he won’t do it.
There are those who will cite my own history of protecting and defending certain members of the military as the cause for casting doubt on the Vocativ article’s accuracy. Certainly, there are a few accurate facts in the piece, as listed above. But overall it leaves a bad taste in the reader’s mouth, painting an all-American hero as a callous wretch and the Afghan who for whatever reason won’t seek asylum as the horribly wronged party. There are two sides to every story, and in this case it appears the writers at Vocativ took whatever threads of frustration and fear were in Gulab’s mind and wove them into a tapestry of hostility. Luttrell’s advice to seek asylum is solid, and the former SEAL cannot be blamed for the inaction of another. Perhaps the bottom-feeders at Vocativ would be well-advised to put their writing skills to work in more credible ways, such as describing UFO sightings and werewolf rampages. Then, at least, there would be no doubt as to the veracity of their article content for the average reader.
To Marcus Luttrell, we thank you – I thank you – for your service, sacrifices, and what is undoubtedly a lifetime of pain in so many ways. You and your brothers who were lost are true heroes, and no one can take that from you.
Dum spiramus tuebimuer: While we breathe, we shall defend.
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