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Family of Marine killed in Afghanistan pushes back against cover-up

Killer tied to corrupt Afghani police chief

- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2014

The family of a Marine murdered in Afghanistan as he worked out in a gym is accusing the Corps of a cover-up by refusing to turn over documents that would show the dangerous environment inside Forward Operating Base Delhi.

A lawyer for the family of Lance Cpl. Gregory T. Buckley Jr. says Lance Cpl. Buckley and two other Marines were gunned down by a young civilian in a close relationship with a corrupt Afghan police chief. Sarwar Jan was known to help the enemy yet was allowed to work inside the FOB.

"Since the Aug. 10, 2012, murders, the Marine Corps has refused to provide the standard death investigative report," said attorney Michael J. Bowe. He said the Corps told the father, Gregory T. Buckley Sr., that if he wanted to attend the suspects' trial in an Afghan courtroom he would have to get there on his own. With little notice, the trial occurred last week, leaving Mr. Buckley no time to make arrangements.

"This is an ugly story," said Mr. Bowe, a partner in a prestigious national law firm that took the case pro bono. "[It is a] cover-up because no one wanted Americans to know that we were forcing our young men and women to share bases and work with corrupt Afghan officials who were raping children, shaking down villagers, collaborating with the Taliban and opium dealers and putting them in environments where we could not protect them.

"As a result," he said, "not only did three United States Marines get murdered in their own base gymnasium, but the truth about how and why those murders happened has been systematically suppressed because it contradicts the administration's narrative."

The Marine Corps disputes this, providing a statement to The Washington Times detailing security at Delhi and the amount of communications it has maintained with the three families.

"Our approach to supporting the families of our fallen Marines is based on our unwavering commitment to loyalty," the statement said.

The murders at the Helmand Province FOB came amid a wave of insider, or "green on blue," attacks carried out by Afghan security personnel working closely with the Americans. Also shot and killed in the gym were Cpl. Richard A. Rivera Jr. and Staff Sgt. Scott E. Dickinson. A fourth Marine took a number of rounds and was nearly killed.

Compounding the murders, Mr. Bowe said, is the approach the Marine Corps has taken in dealing with the Buckley family's search for answers.

"They followed up, followed up, followed up, and they've gotten no information," he said. "Basically the Marine Corps and government paid lip service and otherwise washed their hands of this."

He said a Corps liaison officer ultimately told the family to file a U.S. Freedom of Information Act request.

"Unbelievably, this Gold Star family was told that if they wanted information, they would need to file FOIA requests like any old citizen," he said. "And then they completely ignored those FOIA requests anyway."

Last week, Mr. Bowe sent a letter to the Corps calling its lack of responses "frankly unacceptable."

"This nation, and the Marine Corps in particular, owe far more to the Gold Star families of these murdered Marines, including at the minimum the basics that are not being provided," said Mr. Bowe of law firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP.

Some of what the government did tell the family was incorrect, he said.

The family was led to believe the suspect would be brought to the U.S., but that never happened.

"He murdered three United States Marines and should be prosecuted by the United States in the United States for murdering those Americans," Mr. Bowe said.

Mr. Bowe said the Marines initially said that medical tests showed the teenager was 18, meaning he would be tried as an adult and face the death penalty. Last May, he said, the family was shocked to learn that three Afghan doctors looked at X-rays and decided the suspect was under 18, a juvenile under local law.

"The first test established that the shooter was over 18, and this second test, which is based on the subjective judgment of three unknown Afghan doctors, is hardly a conclusive rebuttal of that initial finding," Mr. Bowe wrote.

Last week, the family got the bad news. Ainuddin Khudairaham was tried as a minor in an Afghan courtroom, convicted and sentenced to seven years, six months — the maximum under local law — for the cold-blooded murder of three U.S. Marines. Witnesses have said he celebrated the killings, announcing he had done it for jihad.

The case is tied to Sarwar Jan, a notoriously corrupt Afghan police chief whose headquarters were located at FOB Delhi. He is known to have ties to the Taliban and a penchant for boys — not uncommon among Afghan men.

He arrived at the FOB two weeks before the shooting, setting off alarm bells. One officer there emailed Marine Reserve Maj. Jason Brezler, a New York City firefighter who knew of Mr. Jan's nefarious conduct during a previous deployment. As a heads-up, Maj. Brezler immediately sent the officer a classified report on Mr. Jan stored in his personal computer.

The Marine Corps almost immediately went after Maj. Brezler for mishandling secret materials. It sent him before a board of inquiry, as some senior officers and members of Congress came to his defense. The board, however, recommended he be discharged honorably.

One of Maj. Brezler's supporters was Paul Davies, who worked on a civilian transition team in Afghanistan.

"It remains my firm belief that Sarwar Jan posed a real danger not only to the USMC and civilian personnel on FOB Delhi in late July, but also to the prospects of building the capacity of the Afghan police in Garmsir, and therefore the success of Transition overall," Mr. Davies said in a statement to the board. "These fears we all shared in July [2012] were of course more than borne out by the events of 10th August."

As reported by ForeignPolicy.com, Mr. Davies said in his letter that Marine commanders were shocked to learn Mr. Jan was coming to Delhi as the district's new top cop.

He wrote that Mr. Jan "had behaved so badly in his previous incarnation in that role, in another district, that he had been removed by the Marines. Allegations against him included operating illegal checkpoints, extorting money, abducting and abusing children and supplying weapons and police uniforms to the enemy. In the light of the rash of 'green on blues' that was to hit Helmand in the summer of 2012, this last was of particular concern."

The Buckleys wonder why no one acted on Maj. Brezler's warning.

"They did nothing for two weeks, and the shooter was one of Sarwar Jan's guys," said the attorney, Mr. Bowe. "They then spent two years stonewalling the Buckleys and trying to run Brezler out of the Marines while not a single person was held responsible for the lapses that led to these murders."

The Marine Corps tells a different story on some key issues, according to a statement provided to The Washington Times by Col. Sean D. Gibson, director of Marine Corps public affairs at the Pentagon.

On the issue of security, the FOB was divided into three distinct zones, with secure walls and entry controls for the Marines, Afghan police and Afghan army.

The three slain Marines were doing police training and working out in the gym in the police sector. That explains how Mr. Khudairaham — and his AK-47 — gained access.

Concerning the assailant's age, Col. Gibson said the defendant lacked birth records. He was examined twice by Afghan doctors, who determined his age at between 17 and 18. On June 30, an Afghan judge ruled he would be tried as a juvenile.

Of family contact, Col. Gibson asserted, "Since the time of the incident, regular contact with the affected families has been maintained in order to keep them informed of related investigative and legal developments."

Col. Gibson said casualty officers, Marine lawyers and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service have all spoken with the families over the past 23 months.

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