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Attorney alleges Marine Corps commandant sought to undermine four-star's defense of accused officer

Nov. 6, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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A vocal critic of the Marine Corps commandant’s involvement in the Taliban urination scandal has accused him of urging subordinates to publicly oppose legal testimony offered by a fellow Marine four-star general who came to the defense of a junior officer implicated in the case.

In a complaint submitted this week to the Defense Department inspector general, civilian attorney John Dowd alleges Gen. Jim Amos, the commandant, “in an unlawful act of reprisal ... urged his subordinate colonels and generals to push back against one of the expert witnesses” Dowd brought to Quantico, Va., during administrative proceedings for Capt. James Clement. The document does not identify the witness by name, but Dowd told Marine Corps Times it is Gen. John Kelly, the commander of U.S. Southern Command, who suggested during last month’s hearing that Clement was unfairly targeted and owed an apology.

Calling the matter extremely sensitive, Dowd declined to address additional questions about his complaint.

A spokesman for the commandant’s office, Lt. Col. David Nevers, declined to address the merit of Dowd’s allegations. However, he provided a written statement from Amos saying: “I have the utmost respect for General Kelly. His support for the military justice system is precisely what I expect from my General Officers and all Marines.”

Reached by email, Kelly deferred to his public affairs officer, Col. Greg Julian, who explained it would be inappropriate for the general to comment because there is an ongoing investigation.

Clement was the senior Marine during a 2011 patrol in Afghanistan when a group of scout snipers shot video of themselves urinating on dead insurgents. Although Clement was not present when that video was made, prosecutors argued that he failed to correct other misbehavior that day. A panel of three senior officers overseeing his hearing — what’s known as a board of inquiry — recommended Clement be separated from the service with an honorable discharge, concluding the former executive officer for Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, failed to demonstrate the leadership required of a Marine officer with his experience.

At the time of the incident, Kelly was serving as the senior military adviser to then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. His testimony during Clement’s hearing centered on what he called the battalion’s reputation for having loose standards and the threat that poses to good order and discipline.

Kilo Company’s commander, Capt. Rudyard Olmstead, said during Clement’s hearing that during their deployment he had observed repeated uniform violations among the scout snipers. While on base, the men were known to go bare chested and not blouse their pants properly, Olmstead testified, noting that these violations continued even after they were addressed by the snipers’ superiors.

The scout sniper platoon was commanded by an enlisted Marine, a staff noncommissioned officer, who reported directly to the battalion’s leadership. That was a mistake, Kelly suggested during his testimony. The scout snipers needed the direct supervision of an officer, he testified, saying that while uniform violations may seem insignificant, failure to correct such issues can lead to far bigger disciplinary problems.

Battalion and unit leadership — not Clement — should answer for failing to properly supervise the scout snipers, Kelly testified. “I can’t offer an official apology to him and his family,” he said, “but I think at the end of this board, he should receive that from someone.”

In all, eight Marines faced disciplinary action as a result of the urination video. Clement’s case was the last to be resolved. However, the prosecution of these cases has been tainted throughout with accusations of improper involvement by Amos and his legal advisers.

Clement was the only officer to face criminal charges, but those charges were dropped suddenly in September, amid allegations that Amos and others close to him had attempted to manipulate the military justice system and ensure Marines would be punished for the video. This summer, another senior Marine officer, Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, said in a signed declaration that Amos stripped him of his oversight to prosecute these cases after Waldhauser refused to promise that those linked to the scandal would be thrown out of the Corps.

Dowd’s IG complaint joins at least two others filed by Maj. James Weirick, a Marine attorney who first raised concerns about the commandant’s involvement in these cases. Weirick, who was subsequently removed from his job, also contends he is the victim of reprisal.

Staff writer Hope Hodge Seck contributed to this report.

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