Swenson, 33, of Seattle, resigned from the Army in February 2011. He declined to be interviewed for this report.
The evidence that his original Medal of Honor nomination was downgraded against regulations comes on top of a McClatchy investigation that found that the Marine Corps inflated its account of Meyer’s deeds, attributing actions to him that were embellished or unsubstantiated or that couldn’t have happened.
Obama’s recitation of Meyer’s acts – delivered at a White House awards ceremony on Sept. 15, 2011 – repeated the exaggerated and erroneous details, said the McClatchy investigation, which was published in December by the journalist who survived the ambush while on assignment with Meyer’s unit.
McClatchy’s investigation also noted that at least seven participants in the battle attested to Meyer’s heroism in retrieving under fire – along with Swenson and other U.S. and Afghan personnel – the bodies of three Marines and a Navy corpsman.
The White House, the Pentagon and the Marine Corps defended the official accounts of Meyer’s actions, saying they were the products of an exhaustive review process and that there was no reason to look into the matter.
Swenson, who served one tour in Iraq and two in Afghanistan, was an adviser to 30 Afghan Border Police officers who joined some 60 Afghan troops and their Marine trainers on Sept. 8, 2009, for what was expected to be a low-risk mission to Ganjgal, a fortresslike village at the end of a U-shaped valley in eastern Kunar province. Word of the operation leaked, however, and the contingent walked into a trap set by an estimated 50 to 60 insurgents.
Swenson was nominated for the Medal of Honor for helping to extricate the force and then repeatedly driving back into the kill zone to retrieve casualties under a hail of insurgent bullets and shells
In addition to the three Marines and the Navy corpsman, the battle claimed the lives of an Army sergeant, nine Afghan troops and an Afghan translator. Two dozen Afghans and four Americans, including Swenson and Meyer, were wounded.
Besides the Medal of Honor nominations, the clash produced two Navy Crosses – the second highest U.S. military decoration for gallantry – eight Bronze Stars and nine Purple Hearts. After the two investigations, two Army officers were reprimanded for dereliction of duty for spurning calls by Swenson and others for air, artillery and ground support.
In his interview with investigators, Swenson expressed bitterness that his request for air and artillery support had been denied. He charged that the U.S. rules of engagement induced American commanders to be overly cautious and second-guess troops in the field.
“I understand the necessity of saving as many lives as I can,” he said, according to the transcript. “Unfortunately, this is combat. I can’t be perfect, but I can do what I feel what’s right at the time. When I am being second-guessed by higher or somebody that’s sitting in an air-conditioned TOC (tactical operations center), well, hell, why am I even out there? Let’s just . . . sit back and play Nintendo.”
A Medal of Honor “packet” typically comprises dozens of digitized documents entered into the computer system that each service maintains to process awards. They include a draft narrative of the nominee’s deeds and a short draft citation supported by sworn witness statements, maps, diagrams and other materials. A nominating officer also fills out a computerized nomination form and signs and dates it digitally with the swipe of a special card. The nomination then moves up the chain of command through a review process that ends with a final recommendation to the president by the secretary of defense.