- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Senate Armed Services Committee passed on a chance to question publicly the new Marine Corps commandant about punishment handed out to an officer who warned his battle mates about a traitorous Afghan police chief known to sexually abuse boys.

Marine Gen. Robert B. Neller, who became commandant in a change-of-command ceremony last week, was at the center of internal top brass discussions to send the officer, Reserve Maj. Jason Brezler, to a board of inquiry that recommended kicking him out. Maj. Brezler says the action amounted to illegal reprisal against a protected whistleblower.

The police chief, Sarwar Jan, was at Marine Forward Operating Base Delhi in 2012 with an entourage of boys. One of the group, a teenager, walked into the base gym on Aug. 10 and shot and killed three Marines. The cold-blooded killings occurred 17 days after Maj. Brezler sent an email to Marine headquarters in Afghanistan warning that Chief Jan was corrupt, was in bed with the Taliban and smuggled arms. The unheeded alert was clear: Chief Jan was a danger to U.S. Marines.

The Jan dossier that Maj. Brezler provided was classified and sent over an unsecure server from his laptop, which gave the generals an opening to punish him. A decision to send him to a board of inquiry for dismissal came immediately after Marine generals learned he had told a member of Congress about what he believed were three preventable killings.

His supporters have pressed the staff of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, Arizona Republican, to question Gen. Neller about his role in what they consider an illegal reprisal.

But no senator brought up the issue in committee in written questions to Gen. Neller during the confirmation hearing itself or in post-hearing questions.

It is unclear whether Mr. McCain’s staff made back channel inquires to Gen. Neller. A spokesman for the committee did not reply to a query from The Washington Times. A Marine spokesman for Gen. Neller declined to comment.

Kevin Carroll, Maj. Brezler’s pro bono attorney, said it is not too late for the Senate committee or an investigative committee to question Gen. Neller.

“Members in both houses of Congress should ask Commandant Neller about the Marine Corps‘ cultural and religious sex assault training, and his role in unlawful retaliation against Major Brezler for blowing the whistle on Sarwar Jan to Congress and the Department of Justice,” Mr. Carroll told The Times.

Maj. Brezler’s case has gained new media attention in Washington amid allegations that the U.S. military, reluctant to interfere in local customs, has permitted on an American base the raping of boys by Afghan chieftains such as Police Chief Jan.

Maj. Brezler, a firefighter from a station in Brooklyn, New York, won support this month from the state’s two Democratic senators, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand.

“Given the honorable intent of the major’s actions and his exemplary record of service in Afghanistan, we believe that Major Brezler should remain in the Marine Corps,” the two wrote Sept. 3 to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. “We urge you to closely examine all the available information as you make a decision on this case.”

‘Let’s not overreact’

The Maj. Brezler-Gen. Neller story begins in 2010, when the major was stationed as an intelligence officer in Helmand Province. There, he and his fellow Marines came across Chief Jan. They compiled a rap sheet on a man who threatened, robbed and beat villagers in Now Zad, collaborated with the Taliban and kept a coterie of young boys as his servants.

The Marines kicked Chief Jan out of the village. About two years later, he resurfaced at the Forward Operating Base Delhi, accompanied by nine boys, as a district police chief.

Maj. Andrew Terrell, a Marine intelligence officer who was in Now Zad, emailed Maj. Brezler, who was in graduate school in Oklahoma. He had kept the Jan dossier on his hard drive, viewed Chief Jan as an immediate threat to Marines and hurriedly sent it to an intelligence officer at a Marine headquarters camp.

The receiving officer noted the dossier was stamped “secret” and reported that fact to a security office, thus beginning Maj. Brezler’s legal problems.

“Let’s not overreact here,” Maj. Terrell told the intelligence officer, to no avail. “I asked Jason to help you out. He is a get-the-mission-done guy, just like us. There is nothing mission-sensitive in that doc and it is definitely overclassified. I do not want to see him screwed over because I asked for his help.”

But his commanders nevertheless launched an investigation, as did the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

Mr. Carroll, Maj. Brezler’s attorney, said the matter was settled administratively. He received a bad fitness report and was relieved of his reserve command at the Garden City, New York, station in March 2013. A few days later, Maj. Brezler contacted Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, as a whistleblower.

Later, Mr. Carroll said, Maj. Brezler was laterally assigned to serve as the operations officer in another battalion and received a top fitness report that summer.

That August, the Marine commandant at the time, Gen. James Amos, got involved in a big way, setting the stage for further punishment.

A published news article disclosed that Maj. Brezler had contacted Mr. King. On Aug. 26, 2013, Gen. Amos sent an email to Gen. Neller, then the top Marine in U.S. Central Command, and to the then-acting Marine Corps inspector general, Carl Shelton.

Gen. Amos said, “This is the first I have heard about this” and asked for the “ground truth.” Mr. Shelton replied that he had opened an investigation.

Later that day, Lt. Gen. Richard P. Mills, commander of Marine Forces Reserve, joined the email thread titled “NEED GROUND TRUTH.” Gen. Mills said he “was told it concerned an officer disciplined for sending classified material.”

Gen. Neller then sent out an email to the generals saying, “We need to talk.”

Inspector general findings

Mr. Carroll, the pro bono attorney, said this is evidence that Gen. Neller convened a conference call on Maj. Brezler’s fate. The next thing Maj. Brezler knew, he was being ordered to a board of inquiry intending to kick him out of the Corps.

Maj. Brezler filed a whistleblower retaliation complaint with the Pentagon inspector general on Aug. 29 for the bad fitness report. The next day, Gen. Mills ordered the board of inquiry.

The IG narrowed the probe to the actions of Gen. Mills in ordering the board of inquiry. It cleared him of the reprisal charge but did find fault.

Although the IG said Maj. Brezler’s outreach to Congress was protected under the law, it also said, “We determined that Lt. Gen. Mills would have taken the unfavorable personnel action against complainant absent his protected communication.”

Mr. Carroll said that despite this finding, Congress still has an obligation to investigate Gen. Neller’s role and determine what he said to the other generals. For one thing, the attorney said, the IG never questioned Gen. Neller.

And, he added, the IG found that Gen. Mills was not truthful on one key point: Gen. Mills told the IG he did not know that Maj. Brezler had complained to Congress before he ordered the board of inquiry. The IG said the evidence says that he did know of the story.

“However,” the IG report said, “a preponderance of the evidence established that he was aware of complainant’s communication before taking the action. On August 26, 2013, the commandant of the Marine Corps emailed a copy of an August 25, 2013, Marine Corps Times article, ‘Marine who warned of insider attack threat facing career end,’ to a list of recipients including Lt. Gen. Mills. The article quoted Representative King at length describing complainant’s allegations of reprisal.”

The IG report concluded, “Although Lt. Gen. Mills denied that he read the article, we find it more likely than not he would have reviewed an article the commandant of the Marine Corps sent to him, which Lt. Gen. Mills testified had been discussed at a general officer’s meeting at Quantico the day before it ran.”

Gen. Mills testified he felt compelled to send Maj. Brezler to the board because of the degree to which he mishandled classified information by storing and sending it on a personal device.

“It’s against regulation to ever download classified documents into either your personal computer and/or a thumb drive or a hard drive that is not properly classified, yes,” Gen. Mills testified. “Everybody knows that.”

The unheeded warning

Maj. Brezler’s attorney, Mr. Carroll, points out the timing: It was 13 months after the major had sent the dossier to Afghanistan (and in the meantime had been administratively punished by his command) that the Marine top brass decided to fire him — immediately after they learned he was a whistleblower by way of Gen. Amos’ email demanding “ground truth.”

On July 1, President Obama nominated Gen. Neller as the next commandant, replacing Gen. Joseph Dunford, now the Joint Chiefs chairman. The news caused Maj. Brezler’s supporters to spring into action in an attempt to persuade senators to question the nominee about what they considered a reprisal.

One of those backers is Washington attorney John Dowd, a former Marine who railed against what he perceived was corruption during the term of Gen. Amos in other legal cases.

Mr. Dowd sent documents to Steven M. Barney, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s general counsel, who wrote back on Sept. 3 that “I have been responsible to follow this matter for Senator McCain. I will continue to follow the case. At this time I believe I have all the information I need and that a phone call would serve no purpose.”

“Why did [the committee], after being fully briefed in writing, before Neller hearings, ignore the scandal in the Marine Corps?,” Mr. Dowd said in an email.

Mr. Dowd referred to “the cover-up and the retaliation by Generals Amos and Neller and Mills who was found to have lied to the DoD IG.”

Maj. Brezler is now in federal court making the case that he is the victim of whistleblower reprisal.

Left unclear is what happened to Maj. Brezler’s warning about Police Chief Jan 17 days before one of his boys murdered three Marines. The officer who received it and reported Maj. Brezler for mishandling classified information says he informed FOB Delhi, where Chief Jan was posted.

But according to Mr. Carroll, no one at the base recalls receiving the warning.

A day after the carnage, Larissa Mihalisko, the civilian intelligence officer who wrote the Jan dossier based largely on Maj. Brezler’s investigation in 2009-2010, sent the officer the news in an email, “Sarwar Jan strikes again.”

“Tragic story for you,” she wrote. “Sarwan Jan was recently named the DCOP [district chief of police] of Garmsir. He brought 9 — yes, count it NINE chai boys (excuse me, personal servants) with him. One of them decided to go nuts and killed a bunch of Marines yesterday, tried to get another policeman to join him in jihad. This week has absolutely sucked in Helmand.”

Two years after the tragedy, under pressure from the families of those killed, the Marine Corps launched an inquiry into security at Delhi at the time.

Its report did not mention the Brezler warning and found no wrongdoing by Marine commanders, the Marine Corps Times reported in January.

Mr. Carroll said both the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the subsequent Marine investigations were greatly flawed. He said that when the parents of one dead Marine asked an NCIS agent for information, they were told to file a Freedom of Information Act request. The parents filed a lawsuit, which the Obama administration is trying to get a judge to dismiss.

“These probes were so obviously flawed and self-interested that an outside, independent entity such as the FBI and Justice Department needs to investigate everything that happened on that base in the summer of 2012, and possible subsequent obstruction of justice,” Mr. Carroll said.

“NCIS did not interview Sarwar Jan, a key witness, until 17 months after the murders. NCIS marked as ‘secret’ their report of that interview, and made a specious legal claim of privacy regarding records about Sarwar Jan to avoid producing them to Brezler’s defense,” the attorney said. “The Marines lost or destroyed the audio and video recordings of their nine-day interrogation of the shooter.”

An Afghan judge designated the murderer as a juvenile and sentenced him to 71/2 years in prison.

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