It has been a long year for Gen. James Amos, the top officer
in the U.S. Marine Corps. In addition to facing massive budget cuts and an
unpopular drawdown in forces, his service has been rocked by allegations that
he and other senior members of his staff deliberately sought to wrongfully influence the disciplining of eight
Marines implicated in an embarrassing war-zone video that showed scout snipers
urinating on dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
The allegations just got worse. A new complaint filed with
the Pentagon's inspector general Tuesday accuses the commandant of an
"unlawful act of reprisal" against a fellow top officer. The complaint,
filed by the lawyer for one of the implicated Marines implicated, Capt. James
Clement, accuses the commandant of instructing colonels and lower-ranking
generals in the Corps to "push back" against the expert testimony of one of the
expert witnesses in Clement's case. The witness isn't named, but the lawyer,
John Dowd, confirmed for Foreign Policy that it is Gen. John Kelly, another Marine
four-star officer who runs U.S. Southern Command.
In other words: a four-star general, Amos, is accused of
orchestrating a campaign to discredit another four-star general's sworn
testimony. And Amos allegedly asked other generals to carry out that campaign.
Dowd declined to elaborate, citing the sensitivity of his
complaint, which was first
reported by Marine Corps Times on Wednesday night. But his allegations offer
a beyond-rare glimpse into the military's senior ranks and the sometimes-terse
disagreements that can occur there. Fights between top generals almost never
break out in public. Having one erupt as part of a court case is even more
A spokeman for Amos, Lt. Col. Dave Nevers, declined to
comment on the complaint, citing respect for the open investigation. However,
he provided a brief statement from the commandant himself.
"I have the utmost respect for General Kelly," the statement
said. "His support for the military justice system is precisely what I expect
from my General Officers and all Marines."
Kelly could not be reached for comment.
The new allegations underscore the continued volatility surrounding
the scout sniper cases. This summer, a
three-star general, Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, alleged in a sworn statement that
Amos removed him as the convening authority overseeing the snipers' discipline
because Waldhauser was not
willing to "crush" all of the Marines involved. Amos wanted them all thrown
out of the service, it alleged. Critics allege that amounts to actual unlawful
command influence, in which a commander attempts to deliberately and illegally sway
the military justice system.
Marine officials acknowledge Amos removed Waldhauser from
the position after they spoke, but said he did so because he didn't want his
conversation with the three-star officer to be perceived as getting involved.
Clement was the last of the eight Marines to face discipline
in the cases. He was not accused of urinating on anyone, but was charged with
dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming an officer after the investigation
into the video because it was Marines on patrol with him from 3rd Battalion,
2nd Marines that relieved themselves on dead insurgents in Musa Qala,
Afghanistan, on July 27, 2011. It was posted online anonymously in January
2012, creating an international firestorm.
Prosecutors alleged that as the only officer present, Clement
should have stopped some of their other alleged misbehavior that day, including
"indiscriminate firing" in a firefight. That's even if he did not know the
video was being recorded.
The cases for many of the Marines implicated took on a new
spin in March when Maj. James Weirick, a staff judge advocate at Quantico, Va.,
explosive whistle-blower complaint with the Defense Department inspector
general alleging that the commandant, or senior members of his staff, meddled
illegally in the prosecution of the urination video cases to ensure harsh
punishment, and then sought to cover it up by illegally classifying
Weirick also alleged that Amos showed preferential treatment
to make sure the number two officer in the battalion, then-Maj. James B.
Conway, was cleared of
wrongdoing and promoted, even as the battalion commander, Lt. Col.
Christopher Dixon, remained on an administrative hold pending the results of
all the cases. The whistle-blower questioned whether that was because Conway's
father, retired. Gen. James T. Conway, preceded Amos as the Marine Corps
With the Pentagon investigating Weirick's allegations, the
Marine Corps dropped the criminal charges against Clement in July and elected
to take him instead to an administrative board of inquiry to assess whether he
should be allowed to stay in the service.
Gen. Kelly, the U.S. Southern Command
chief, testified on his behalf, and said he thought the battalion's top
leadership -- not Clement -- was to blame for the lax standards in the sniper
according to Marine Corps Times. That was perceived by many as a rare act
in which a general officer came out against the commandant. Kelly contended
that Clement was owed an apology for the treatment he received. He could not be
reached for comment.
Dowd brought all that up in his new complaint to Pentagon
investigators. He alleges the "expert testimony" -- Kelly's -- played a key
role in misconduct allegations being dropped against Clement, although he was
forced out of the Corps with an honorable discharge. The commandant responded
in kind, Dowd alleges.
"In an unlawful act of reprisal, the Commandant urged his
subordinate Colonels and Generals to push back against one of the expert
witness," Dowd alleges. "Fortunately, these fine Marines declined."
Dowd continues in dramatic fashion.
"They understood that our system of justice is not the
underworld where witnesses are regularly intimidated, harassed, depicted as
killers and punished for their lawful testimony," the complaint says. "But that
is exactly what the unlawful command influence of the Commandant and his counsel
has produced and this is why the Colonels on that Board did exactly what the
CMC ordered: throw James Clement out of the Marine Corps despite overwhelming
evidence to the contrary."
Marine officials have insisted that the military justice
process for all Marines disciplined in the case has been preserved. They also
denied Conway was given preferential treatment in the investigation. He was
promoted and is now the commander of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, in
Dixon, the battalion commander, remains
on administrative hold, meaning he has not been promoted or taken commander
of another unit. Before the controversial video was posted online, he was
selected for promotion to colonel and a highly regarded top-level school
assignment at the Justice Department in Washington - a quick path to becoming a
general himself, in the eyes of many. He was not allowed to attend, however,
and was bypassed again this summer for any similar assignment.
A Marine spokesman, Col. Sean Gibson, told Foreign Policy
that Dixon is now the operations officer at 2nd Marine Division headquarters at
Camp Lejeune. He has not been forced to face any formal kind of discipline. An
administrative board will determine his future.
Weirick, the whistle-blower and judge advocate, also has
faced trouble. He was removed from his legal position at Quantico after sending
a harshly-worded email to Peter Delorier, one of the commandant's civilian
attorneys. According to Weirick's lawyer, Jane Siegel, he is now a training
officer at Quantico, working in a job typically held by a junior officer.
Robert Hogue, the commandant's top civilian attorney, told
Marine Corps Times that Weirick's email was considered threatening, and
said the "bizarre nature of the communications" in the case needed
investigation. In the email, the whistle-blower urges Delorier to come clean on
what he knows, and warns that no one "can offer you protection from Weirick."
Weirick has since been cleared of any mental defect in a
voluntary exam, Siegel said. Senior Marine officials questioning his sanity was
a clear attempt to discredit him, she said. Weirick expects to meet with
inspector general personnel later this month to discuss the actions, his lawyer
"They want him out of the limelight and to reduce his
credibility as much as possible so they can limit their liability to the
allegations of misclassifying evidence," Siegel told Foreign Policy. "This is a
full-out attack on a Marine who was trying to do his job."
Marine officials have declined to comment on Weirick's initial IG complaint and the accusations of reprisal he has made since, citing the open investigation.
Inspector General complaint filed against Gen. James Amos by Dan Lamothe
D. Myles Cullen/ U.S. Army