Last fall, the Navy Department had a controversial disciplinary case before it: Maj. Jason C. Brezler had been asked by Marine colleagues to submit all the information he had about an influential Afghan police chief suspected of abusing children. Brezler sent a classified document in response over an unclassified Yahoo email server, and he self-reported the mistake soon after. But the Marine Corps recommended that he be discharged for mishandling classified material.
The Navy Department, which oversees the Marine Corps, had the ability to uphold or overturn the decision. However, rather than just looking at the merits of the case, Navy officials also assessed that holding new hearings on the case would renew attention on the scandal surrounding child sex abuse in Afghanistan, according to military documents newly disclosed in federal court.
The documents, filed Tuesday in a lawsuit by Brezler against the Navy Department and Marine Corps, also show that Marine and Navy officials in Afghanistan were aware in 2012 of allegations of abuse against children by the Afghan police chief but that the chief was allowed to keep his position in Helmand province anyway. This became a major issue after a teenage boy who worked for the chief — and allegedly was abused by him — opened fire on a U.S. base Aug. 10, 2012, killing three Marines and badly wounding a fourth.
The five-page legal review, written last October by Lt. Cmdr. Nicholas Kassotis for Vice Adm. James W. Crawford III, the judge advocate general of the Navy, recommended that the Marine Corps’ actions against Brezler be upheld. Calling for a new administrative review, known as a Board of Inquiry, would delay actions in the case another six to nine months and possibly increase attention on the case, “especially in the aftermath of significant media attention to the allegations regarding the practice of keeping personal sex slaves in Afghanistan,” Kassotis wrote. A month later in November, acting assistant Navy secretary Scott Lutterloh upheld the Marine Corps’ decision.
Brezler’s case has drawn new attention in recent months as critics of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton have compared her email controversy to Brezler’s, noting that the officer’s military career is on the brink of being over. He sued the Marine Corps and Navy Department in 2014, saying that he was a victim of reprisal for discussing his case with a member of Congress, and it has languished in court since. Brezler wants to block his dismissal, which is now on hold.
Navy and Marine Corps officials declined to discuss the case or the new documents filed in it, citing the pending litigation. A spokesman for the Justice Department, which is handling the lawsuit for the government, also declined to comment.
The Navy Department’s observation about Brezler’s case was made as another U.S. service member’s career was in jeopardy because of his response to alleged child sex abuse in Afghanistan. In that instance, Army Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland made headlines after the Army decided last year to involuntarily separate him from the service because of a reprimand he had received for hitting an Afghan Local Police (ALP) official in 2011 after the man laughed about kidnapping and raping a teenage boy. The Army overturned its decision in April and allowed Martland, a Green Beret, to stay in the military after Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.) intervened.
The Martland case opened a dialogue in which numerous veterans of the war in Afghanistan said they were told to ignore instances of child sex abuse by their Afghan colleagues. The Defense Department’s inspector general then opened an investigation into the sexual assault reports and how they were handled by U.S. military officials who knew about them.
Brezler’s attorney, Michael J. Bowe, said Wednesday in an email that his client is entitled to a “real review” of his case — “not a whitewash designed to avoid uncomfortable press stories about child rape by our ‘partners’ in Afghanistan.
“Our service members deserve better,” he added.
A spokesman for Hunter, Joe Kasper, said that the Navy Department is “right to be worried about granting Brezler a new, impartial review of his case” because it “can’t sustain a case based on the facts and the moral imperative” that prompted Brezler to send the warning to other Marines that landed him in legal trouble.
“The Navy surely watched the Army struggle with the Martland case, and the Army was ultimately left no choice but to retain Martland,” Kasper said. “The Brezler case is no different in that, at its foundation, there’s a corrupt Afghan commander that exploits children. It’s something that Americans won’t tolerate, and good luck to the Navy as it tries to explain that Brezler was better to keep quiet, avoiding scrutiny altogether, than attempt to save several Marines that were killed. On that aspect alone, the Navy loses.”
Acting Defense Undersecretary Brian P. McKeon, said in a letter to Hunter last month that Gen. John “Mick” Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, reaffirmed in May “tactical guidance” for U.S. troops that directs them to report potential instances of sex abuse to their commanders.
“General Nicholson also issued a specific human rights policy directing further education of U.S. and coalition military personnel on their responsibilities to report human rights violations,” McKeon wrote.
The Marines killed by the police chief’s servant were Staff Sgt. Scott Dickinson, Cpl. Richard Rivera Jr. and Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley. A fourth Marine suffered five gunshot wounds but survived. The teenager who killed them has been identified by the Marine Corps as Ainuddin Khudairaham. He is said to have bragged about the attack afterward, boasting “I just did jihad.”
A 300-page, declassified copy of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) probe of Brezler’s case filed this week as part of his lawsuit said that an officer in Afghanistan, Capt. Brian Donlon, sought information about Sarwar Jan because he recalled being told that he was “a bad guy who raped and tortured the people.” The police chief and Brezler had encountered each other previously in another part of Helmand province, Now Zad district, and Brezler had helped get him removed from his job.
Donlon did not open the file Brezler attached to an email sent from the United States and reported his violation, Donlon told investigators afterward. Donlon sent an email to Brezler informing him the document he sent was classified, and then both Marines reported it to their respective commanding officers.
Marine officials have said that while Brezler did send a classified email to Donlon, he actually faced scrutiny from the Marine Corps because he had other classified documents illegally stored that he planned to use while writing a book.
Brezler’s attorney has countered that virtually no instances of inadvertently spilling classified information have led to penalties as stiff as his, and that if he had not voluntarily turned over his electronics after reporting his violation, he would not be in trouble now.