UPDATE / 12:30 p.m.:
Special Operations Command (SOCOM) responded to today’s article (below) in The Washington Times that due to the nature of the allegations against the Marine Special Operations Command members “there is not a lot that we can clarify prior to the completion of the MAROC court of inquiry.” Col. Hans Bush, SOCOM director of public affairs, added that in the run-up to the Special Forces soldiers’ case being brought to an Article 32 hearing, there were two investigations. The first investigation, he said, suggested that a crime had taken place. The second investigation suggested a crime had not taken place. “Lt. Gen. Kearney determined the best way to resolve the inconsistency was to prefer charges and send the case to an impartial, experienced Special Forces Officer who could review the results and evidence of both investigations and make a recommendation.” Defense Attorney Mark Waple quickly said that Gen. Kearney “is still not answering the key question, which is why did he direct criminal charges to be preferred by an accuser who had not been provided the criminal investigation that exonerate these two soldiers. Why was this information withheld from the accuser, because the accuser is on record as saying he never saw it, and if he had seen it he would not have signed the charges. ” And in the case of the Marines who are under investigation, Mr. Waple said the general was sliding off the main question: “Why did you go public and accuse these Americans of wrongdoing before the completion of the criminal investigation which you directed?”
A crusading three-star general has sparked outrage within the Army Special Forces and Marine Special Operations Command by publicly condemning and twice bringing legal actions against members of their forces.
None of Lt. Gen. Frank Kearney’s actions has resulted in a conviction, but they have roiled the military community, led to the resignations of several top-trained Marines, and sparked accusations of improper command influence.
Rep. Walter B. Jones, North Carolina Republican, worried about the effect on the military, has asked Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to investigate Gen. Kearney, who is the deputy commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). The case also has attracted widespread comment in military publications and blogs.
The general’s actions “have damaged the lives of many of our special operators and deserve to be investigated,” Mr. Jones said in an Oct. 3 letter to Mr. Gates.
Col. Hans Bush, special forces public affairs officer for the Special Operations Command, said yesterday that Gen. Kearney stood “ready to support any investigation directed by the secretary of defense in this matter.”
But, he said, “it would be inappropriate to provide further comment prior to the completion of ongoing investigations.”
Gen. Kearney directed in June that charges of premeditated murder be brought against Army Special Forces Master Sgt. Troy Anderson and Capt. Dave Staffel, even though the two soldiers already had been exonerated by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command.
The charges, stemming from the shooting death of an Afghan man, were later dropped when authorities decided the victim was a legitimate target.
In March, Gen. Kearney finalized a decision to redeploy all 120 members of the Marine Special Operations Command Fox Company out of Afghanistan, halfway through an internal preliminary investigation into the Marines’ response to an ambush on March 4.
The Marines were accused of shooting indiscriminately at bystanders along a road in the town of Banikot.
“I think too many times when we ask our men and women to go to war for this country, that in certain situations there is a rush to judgment that should not be judged,” Mr. Jones told The Washington Times yesterday.
“I think the integrity of the Army and Marine Corps should not be questioned unless you are absolutely sure it must be questioned,” he said.
Fox Company members were held incommunicado and questioned in Kuwait for weeks before they were allowed to return to the United States.
Seven of the 120 remain under investigation, suspected of violating the rules of engagement.
Gen. Kearney and Col. John Nicholson, commander of the 10th Mountain Division’s Third Brigade Combat Team, commented on the case to the press in April and May in what lawyer Mark Waple, who is representing one of the Marines, says was unlawful command influence in a case.
“We found no brass that we can confirm that small arms fire came at [the Marines],” Gen. Kearney was quoted as having said on April 8.
Col. Nicholson was quoted as saying on May 8: “The death and wounding of innocent Afghans at the hand of Americans is a stain on our honor.”
Those public comments, Mr. Waple said in an interview, “convicted these Marines months before the completion of any criminal investigation.”
“My client, and other Marines on the … patrol, were presumed to be guilty rather than innocent and they have suffered the stigma,” said Mr. Waple, of Waple and Associates based in Fayetteville, N.C.
His client, the Marine company commander, has been relieved of his command.
The preliminary investigations resulted in Gen. Kearney’s decision to direct a Navy criminal investigation which was completed six to eight weeks ago.
In an unusual move, the command now has decided there will be courts of inquiry — a very formal investigatory body provided for by the Uniform Code of Military Justice — convened at Camp Lejeune to further investigate the matter.
“This is extraordinarily rare,” said Mr. Waple.
The father of one of the Marines of Fox Company who was forced to leave Afghanistan has said he hopes the general will be taken to task.
Jerry Olson, in a letter to the department of defense inspector general, also has called for an investigation of Gen. Kearney for “possible criminal conspiracy.”
“I believe evidence will show a coordinated malicious attack was perpetrated against Fox Company. Further, I am accusing Lt. Gen. Kearney and all senior officers that conspired against Fox company of illegal command influence,” Mr. Olson said in a letter dated Oct. 5.
Mr. Olson said that a number of highly qualified Marines, including the lead gunner, were leaving the Marine Corps in humiliation over the accusations.
“These guys [are] at the top of their career,” said Mr. Olson, a former Air Force sergeant in Vietnam.
“I think that has permanently injured [the Marine Special Operations Command] and their ability to attract and keep the top Marines in the Marine Corps. That is what this is all about: Their lives and careers have been ruined.”
Gen. Kearney is a 1976 West Point graduate and former Ranger who has spent time in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. He became commanding general of Special Operations Command-Central in March 2005. In March 2007, he took over the Special Operations Command.