On a warm June night in 2010, the historic Marine Barracks in Washington opened its gates to honor John M. Dowd, a lawyer who sort of resembles the Corps’ mascot — a bulldog.
Mr. Dowd, 72, has doggedly defended U.S. senators and other higher-ups. He conducted the investigation that led to Pete Rose’s withdrawal from any role in Major League Baseball for betting on the game.
But what brought him to Eighth and I Streets Southeast for the Evening Parade was his long dedication to the Corps — first as an active-duty captain, then as pro bono counsel to the service’s Heritage Foundation and member of an unofficial “kitchen cabinet” that advises the commandant, the top Marine.
His devotion is a major reason Mr. Dowd finds himself locked in battle against the highest levels of the Marine Corps, including the commandant, Gen. James F. Amos, whom he accuses of misconduct.
His client is a young, decorated veteran of Afghanistan, Capt. James V. Clement. The Marines charged Capt. Clement with dereliction of duty for failing to supervise members of a sniper team in Afghanistan who urinated on Taliban corpses. A video appeared last year on YouTube, sparking an investigation and discipline against eight Marines.
Mr. Dowd’s battle against Gen. Amos is his form of “semper fidelis,” the Corps’ motto of “always faithful.” He sees it as his duty to represent an underdog and cleanse the Corps of corruption in the form of a legal doctrine known as unlawful command influence, even if he believes the culprit is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
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“I love the Corps and our system of justice,” he said. “I cannot abide subversion or corruption of either.”
With the help of whistleblowers inside the Corps’ legal staff, Mr. Dowd discovered that Gen. Amos last year held a one-on-one meeting with the general overseeing all desecration cases. Gen. Amos ordered the general to “crush” the defendants, who included Capt. Clement.
“We do not crush Marines,” Mr. Dowd said. “We care for them, even when they stumble.”
The legal defense team also found out about a concerted effort inside Gen. Amos’ legal staff to withhold evidence from the defense in violation of discovery rules.
All of this was set to play out in public Sept. 11 at a pre-court-martial hearing, with Gen. Amos as the focus, when the Corps suddenly dropped all criminal charges against Capt. Clement. There would be no trial and no airing of Mr. Dowd’s evidence against Gen. Amos, including Marine lawyers he had lined up to testify.
“The withdrawal of the charges was another act of cowardice by the commandant [and] his counsel,” Mr. Dowd said.
Mr. Dowd said internal emails he demanded “would have revealed that the commandant and his lawyers had engaged in a secret corrupt effort to rig and control the investigations and dispositions of the so-called desecration cases.”
A spokesman for Gen. Amos did not respond to inquiries for comment.
The dismissal’s timing suggests the Corps wanted to avoid embarrassing moments in open court for the commandant.
But Col. Sean Gibson, a Corps spokesman for the Marine command in Quantico, Va., denied the charge.
“Lt. Gen. Kenneth Glueck, who assumed command of Marine Corps Combat Development Command in August, reviewed the case over a matter of weeks in his new role as the convening authority,” Col. Gibson said. “He determined that an administrative process is more appropriate to address Capt. Clement’s alleged conduct.
“The rights of Capt. Clement to fair and impartial treatment under the military judicial process and administrative processes have been and continue to be upheld.”
Mr. Dowd’s Marine Corps ties trace to the 1960s. His brother, Tom, a Marine lieutenant, was killed in Vietnam. Another brother, Dennis, and a sister, Pat, were also Marines. Two sons are in the Corps today.
It was one of those sons, Maj. Daniel Dowd, who told him about Capt. Clement.
“When James was charged, Dan asked me to help him,” Mr. Dowd said. “I was honored. The firm was delighted to do it as part of our pro bono program.” He is a partner in the Washington law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.
Mr. Dowd left the Corps in 1969 and began a long legal career, first as a trial lawyer at the Justice Department. In private practice, he defended Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, in the “Keating Five” scandal, as well as Arizona Gov. Fife Symington in another corruption case.
He is the “Dowd” in the famous “Dowd Report” that documented Mr. Rose’s baseball bets. A. Bartlett Giamatti, commissioner of Major League Baseball, cited the report in persuading Mr. Rose to leave the game for life.
As a “kitchen cabinet” member, Mr. Dowd has helped Marine families referred to him by Gen. Amos. One case involved acquiring veterans’ benefits for the widow of an officer who committed suicide. Mr. Dowd said the cabinet has not met in two years.
His next step is to defend Capt. Clement before an administrative board of inquiry that will determine whether he is allowed to stay in the Corps or be separated for misconduct.
He said all evidence shows that Capt. Clement was not present at the desecration and did not know about the video, making it impossible for him to stop it.