- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A federal judge is striking yet another blow against what some describe as the military’s insular and retaliatory culture, ordering the Marine Corps to answer to accusations that it has quietly tried to discredit a reserve officer in order to cover up his warnings about an Afghan police chief later tied to the fatal shootings of three troops on a base in southern Afghanistan.

U.S. District Court Judge Joseph F. Bianco last week ordered the Marine Corps to respond to claims that officials have tried to “negatively manipulate” the service record of former Reserve Maj. Jason Brezler.

Mr. Brezler says he attempted to alert authorities to the “immediate danger” posed to Forward Operating Base Delhi by Sawar Jan, a notoriously corrupt police chief whose headquarters were at the base. Asked about Mr. Jan by an officer at the base, Mr. Brezler forwarded a copy of a classified report stored on his personal computer.

In August 2012, about two weeks after Mr. Brezler forwarded the report, Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley, Cpl. Richard Rivera and Staff Sgt. Scott Dickinson were fatally shot in the base gymnasium by a young civilian in a close relationship with Mr. Jan.

The Marine Corps almost immediately went after Mr. Brezler, accusing him of mishandling secret materials.

Mr. Brezler said in a lawsuit filed Dec. 22 that the military refused to investigate and make public the events leading up to the deaths of the Marines. He accused the Marine Corps, the Navy and Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, commanding general of Marine Forces Reserve and Marine Forces North, of instead choosing to launch a “witch hunt” into his actions.

His case has played out even as family members of the slain Marines publicly accused the Corps of a cover-up by refusing to turn over documents that would show the dangerous environment inside the base.

It also comes as two Green Berets were exonerated of charges that their incompetence led to the deaths of five fellow soldiers in the worst “friendly fire” loss in the Afghan conflict.

Capt. Derrick Anderson and Master Sgt. Travis Zellmann refuted the conclusions of a special investigation on the incident, arguing that it contained glaring accuracies.

On Dec. 24, Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland, the head of Army Special Operations Command, cleared the two men of wrongdoing.

In Mr. Brezler’s case, investigators convened a board of inquiry in December 2013 into whether he should be thrown out of the Marine Corps, according to court documents. The board recommended that Mr. Brezler, a New York City firefighter, be discharged honorably.

Mr. Brezler says that investigators violated procedures by denying him the right to call upon material witnesses and withholding from him the details of the board of inquiry, including a transcript of the proceedings.

The transcript produced by the Marine Corps was delivered to Mr. Beltzer eight months late and “contained 1,548 missing portions designated ‘inaudible’ and innumerable substantive misstatements and undesignated or explained omissions,” his complaint states.

Mr. Brezler also contends that there is “troubling evidence” that Marine Corps officials have repeatedly tried to mischaracterize his service records in the wake of inquiries from reporters and members of Congress into the killings.

Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Tyler Balzer declined Tuesday to discuss the New York court order. The Marine Corps, he said, is directing all queries to the Department of Justice.

Nellin McIntosh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York, confirmed that Judge Bianco ordered military officials to respond to the court order and to appear before a judge in January.

“We have to file a written response by January 16 and we have to appear in court on January 23 at 2:30 p.m.,” Ms. McIntosh said in an email.

Capt. Balzer said the service began investigating the 2012 attack on the three Marines this year. The Marine Corps has yet to release the findings of that investigation, he said.

In addition, the Pentagon’s top watchdog organization has been looking into whether Gen. Mills retaliated against Mr. Brezler, according to The Washington Post.

But the Marine Corps is also facing cover-up accusations from the family of Lance Cpl. Buckley, who was 21 when he was gunned down in the base gym. At the time, Lance Cpl. Buckley was tasked with training Afghan National Police.

In a lawsuit filed Oct. 15, the Buckley family is claiming Marines were put at risk by lax security at the base, where Afghan police trainees in 2012 had unfettered access and lived alongside their Marine counterparts.

“The Afghans and Marines ate, slept, trained, patrolled, and policed together under the belief that full integration of the forces would result in a more unified approach to properly securing the nation,” the lawsuit states. “In fact, Afghans and Marines lived in the same building, with the Afghans bunking on the first floor and Marines bunking directly above them on the second floor.”

Lance Cpl. Buckley’s father, Gregory Buckley, and aunt, Mary Liz Grosseto, filed the lawsuit against the Marine Corps and its top commander, Gen. James Amos, in the hopes of obtaining reports that might provide them with details about the attack.

Their lawsuit accused the Marine Corps of trying to conceal the circumstances that led to the deaths of its troops. The Afghan police chief had a long history of extorting money from the local civilian population, trafficking narcotics “and providing arms, munitions, and Afghan police uniforms to the Taliban to facilitate insider attacks on Marine and other coalition forces,” the family’s lawsuit says. It also argues that Mr. Jan was known for kidnapping and keeping Afghan boys as sex slaves.

Those illegal activities were documented in the dossier that Mr. Beltzer emailed to authorities before the killings.

• Maggie Ybarra can be reached at mybarra@washingtontimes.com.

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