The Marine Corps has suddenly dropped criminal charges against an officer in the infamous Taliban urination video case, heading off what promised to be an embarrassing pretrial hearing for the Corps’ commandant Wednesday.
Defense attorneys for Capt. James V. Clement had won a judge’s order, over objections from Marine prosecutors, for two staff attorneys to testify in open court about how senior commanders interfered in the case to get a guilty verdict.
The attorneys also were seeking to question Gen. James F. Amos, the commandant, and wanted access to his private emails.
But the criminal case ended Friday when Lt. Gen. Kenneth J. Glueck, who heads Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va., and was overseeing the prosecution, filed a brief court paper withdrawing the charges.
John Dowd, Capt. Clement’s principal defense counsel, accused the commandant of engineering the largest case of unlawful command influence in the Corps’ history.
“The withdrawal of the charges was another act of cowardice by the commandant, his counsel and the Judge Advocate Division of [Marine Corps headquarters] to cover up the worst case of unlawful command influence in the history of the Marine Corps, which was beginning next Wednesday to be uncovered in a hearing before the chief judge … on several motions to compel discovery,” Mr. Dowd said Saturday.
The defense attorney said he wanted to see email traffic among the commandant, his counsel and his legal division.
“That email traffic 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 until Capt. Clement refused to submit to a corrupt process [of being] charged with crimes he did not commit,” Mr. Dowd said.
Capt. Clement’s defense counsel obtained a sworn statement from Lt. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser who, as convening authority, was overseeing all cases in the urination incident. The general told of a one-on-one meeting in 2012 with Gen. Amos in which the commandant said he wanted Marine defendants “crushed” via courts-martial.
Gen. Waldhauser went on to become Defense Secretary’s Chuck Hagel’s senior military adviser.
Citing that conversation, Capt. Clement’s attorneys accused the commandant of blatant unlawful command influence that denied their client a fair court-martial.
They filed a motion to dismiss the charges, thus setting up a series of public pretrial hearings on Gen. Amos’ conduct scheduled to begin Wednesday.
Capt. Clement was charged with dereliction of duty for not properly supervising Marines who urinated on Taliban corpses.
A video of the act went viral on YouTube last year, drawing harsh criticism from the White House. The captain denies any misconduct.
Maj. James Weirick, a staff attorney at Quantico who was to testify Wednesday, filed a complaint with the Pentagon inspector general over Gen. Amos’ actions. An investigation is underway.
Gen. Amos, through an aide, later told Gen. Waldhauser that he regretted his orders and decided to replace him.
“The commandant immediately realized that he had compromised the situation and took immediate action to ensure that the investigation and cases were given to an appropriate new convening authority who could exercise independent and unfettered discretion to take action in those cases,” a Marine spokesman said this summer.
The Washington Times was not able to get a comment from the Corps.
Gen. Glueck’s order did not explain why he was dropping the charges.
He ordered that Capt. Clement undergo an administrative board of inquiry, which will determine whether he committed misconduct.
The board can decide whether he should be retained or separated under less-than-honorable conditions.