The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Judge throws out Marine Corps decision to remove officer who sent classified warning to colleagues

Maj. Jason Brezler is shown here as a captain serving with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, in Afghanistan. (Marine Corps)

A federal judge has tossed out a Marine Corps decision to remove an officer from the service after he sent classified information through an unclassified email server while warning colleagues in Afghanistan about the security threat posed by a police chief whose teenage servant later killed three Marines.

U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Bianco ruled Tuesday that the decision against Maj. Jason Brezler will be vacated because the Department of the Navy, which oversees the Marine Corps, “violated its own discovery rule” by failing to provide Brezler with all documents relevant to his case before an administrative hearing.

Bianco’s ruling, first reported Tuesday evening by the independent Marine Corps Times, took no position on whether Brezler, whose case became a cause celebre among some members of Congress, generals and veterans, faced retaliation from the Navy Department after his story first appeared in the media in August 2013. Instead, the judge found that the Navy’s mistakes “clearly prevented Major Brezler from fully and fairly litigating his retaliation claims,” while also potentially depriving senior military officials reviewing his case from “critical information.”

Brezler’s attorney, Michael J. Bowe, said in a statement that the judge’s decision was a “stunning rebuke of the fundamentally unjust proceedings to which this decorated Marine was subjected for over three years.” Navy and Marine Corps officials, who could still order Brezler to appear at a new hearing, declined to comment.

Brezler warned Marines in Afghanistan’s Helmand province in 2012 about a police chief, Sarwar Jan, who had been removed from power in a district in which Brezler served in 2009, only to resurface elsewhere in Helmand. Brezler’s unit believed that the chief may have been affiliated with the Taliban and was abusing underage boys.

The initial 2013 Marine Corps Times report about Brezler said that he faced a potentially career-ending performance appraisal after responding to an “emergency request for information” from Marines in Afghanistan. Days after the story was published, the service scheduled a hearing known as a board of inquiry to separate him.

A servant working for the police chief opened fire on a makeshift gymnasium used by Marines on Aug. 10, 2012, days after Brezler’s warning, killing Staff Sgt. Scott Dickinson, Cpl. Richard Rivera Jr. and Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley. A fourth Marine suffered five gunshot wounds but survived. The teenager involved in the attack 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,” and was convicted of murder as a juvenile.

Military documents filed in the case showed that Marine and Navy officials in Afghanistan knew before the attack about allegations of abuse against Sarwar Jan but allowed him to keep his position in Helmand. A Navy analysis of the case, disclosed in court in August, assessed that if the Brezler case was reviewed again it would renew attention on the scandal surrounding child sex abuse in Afghanistan — something the service wanted to avoid.

Related on Checkpoint:
Navy analysis found that a Marine’s case would draw attention to Afghan child ‘sex slaves’

Marine’s defense for disseminating classified information will cite Hillary Clinton’s case

Killer of Marines convicted in Afghan court as a juvenile; family outraged