Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller, who has waged a one-man social media campaign against top government and military leaders over their failures in Afghanistan, is out of the brig at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, after spending a week behind bars for criticizing his bosses.
Officials on Tuesday said they released Lt. Col. Scheller, a 17-year USMC veteran, from pre-trial custody as the result of a “mutual agreement” between his defense team and Marine Corps commanders at the base.
“No additional details regarding the agreement may be released at this time,” Capt. Sam Stephenson, a spokesman for USMC Training and Education Command, said in a statement. The case has become a cause celebre for many Pentagon critics who share Lt. Col. Scheller‘s low opinion of the Afghan endgame. The Marine Corps has so far rejected a request from the lieutenant colonel that he be allowed to resign from the military as a consequence of his posts.
An initial hearing into the case against Lt. Col. Scheller was abruptly suspended Tuesday after members of the media complained about a lack of access to the hearing and asked for a delay so they could seek assistance in the federal court system.
Lt. Col. Scheller, who was fired from his job as an infantry training battalion commander at Camp Lejeune, remains subject to a gag order from his commander, Col. David Emmel. He is only about three years away from securing a 20-year pension but said he would be willing to resign his commission in lieu of a trial, according to a source close to the case.
He began releasing controversial YouTube videos and Facebook posts soon after the Aug. 26 suicide bomb attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan that killed 13 U.S. troops and more than 160 Afghan civilians. Lt. Col. Scheller continued publicly criticizing military and government officials even after his commander ordered him to stop.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for Lt. Col. Scheller’s family said they wouldn’t be making any comments about the latest development in the case. His parents recently told Fox News that they’ve been told to prepare for what could be a lengthy prison sentence if he is convicted.
The Marine Corps is “digging in and they’d like to burn our son,” his father, Stuart Scheller, Sr., told Fox News.
Lt. Col. Scheller served in five different combat deployments in the Marine Corps and received a number of awards, including a Bronze Star.
Rob Capovilla and Mickey Williams have a law firm near Atlanta that focuses on the military justice system. They aren’t representing Lt. Col. Scheller but are familiar with his case and have other clients in the same brig where he was held. They said the decision to hold him in pre-trial custody was “simply bizarre.”
“You’ve got to show that the guy is a flight risk. But I don’t think anybody would say that,” Mr. Capovilla said in an interview with The Washington Times. “It is not a good look for the military - the timing of it and the politics surrounding it.”
Lt. Col Scheller would have had the opportunity to post bond and be released from custody had it been a civilian court.
“If you’re in pre-trial confinement [in the military,] you’re there until the judge or the commander says you can get out,” Mr. Williams said.
Marine Corps officials have released little information about the case but said potential charges against Lt. Col. Scheller include contempt toward officials; willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer; failure to obey lawful general orders and conduct unbecoming an officer.
If the case against him goes to trial, Lt. Col. Scheller won’t lack the resources to mount a vigorous defense. More than $2 million has been raised in private donations to finance a legal fight. He also has the backing of more than three dozen lawmakers on Capitol Hill, led by Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican, who petitioned Marine Corps officials last week to allow the defendant to go free until his case was heard.
They accused Marine Corps officials of confining him behind bars as a form of retribution because he had spoken out about the war in Afghanistan.
“We do not believe and have seen no evidence that Lt. Col. Scheller poses a grave risk of criminal misconduct,” they wrote in a letter to Gen. David H. Berger, the Marine Corps commandant.