October 30, 2020

Marine Corps fight escalates over handling of case involving troops urinating on corpses


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James_WeirickBy Ernesto Londoño and Ellen Nakashima, From Washington Post

Nearly two years after a video of U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of suspected Taliban fighters in Afghanistan became an Internet sensation, the case has triggered a rare and escalating fight over the way the military sought to punish the service members who were implicated.

Maj. James Weirick, a Marine lawyer assigned to the case, is taking on the chief of the Marine Corps, Gen. James F. Amos, alleging that the criminal investigation was compromised after the commandant demanded harsh punishment for the suspects before they had their day in court.

In response, Weirick says, the Marine Corps has retaliated by removing him from his job, seizing his personal weapons and ordering him to get a mental health evaluation — steps he and his supporters call character assassination.

This week, Weirick took the fight a step further, charging in a complaint filed with the agency that oversees classification of secrets that senior Marine Corps officials improperly classified material that could have assisted defense attorneys for the Marines under investigation.

The case could hardly come at a worse time for the military justice system, which has come under searing criticism from activists and lawmakers who contend that commanders often exert undue influence in criminal investigations, particularly those involving sexual assault.

The urination scandal was among the embarrassing episodes for the Marine Corps during the last decade of war, calling into question the military’s ability to adequately investigate war crimes. Its muddled handling comes as Afghan officials are debating whether to support keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014, which would require Kabul to extend immunity from prosecution by the Afghan authorities to U.S. forces that remain behind.

The military dropped its case against Capt. James V. Clement, the sole officer charged in the urination case in September, shortly before Weirick was to testify about his concerns. Three enlisted Marines who appear in the video have pleaded guilty to a range of charges that include wrongful possession of unauthorized photos of casualties and failure to report mistreatment of human casualties. Five other Marines received nonjudicial punishments.

With the criminal cases over, Weirick says he is now in a struggle for his career and livelihood.

“There won’t be a Weirick and an Amos in the Marine Corps at the end of this,” he said in an interview Friday night. “I’m not sure which one will remain, but it’s not clear we can both coexist.”

As the Defense Department inspector general reviews Weirick’s allegations, several retired Marine lawyers and a few members of Congress are rallying around the embattled officer.

“This has a foul odor at the highest level,” Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.), who has met with Weirick personally, said in an interview Friday. “This is an effort at the highest level to discredit a man of integrity.”

The Marine Corps says Weirick was not removed from his job in retaliation for being a whistleblower. The step was taken after Weirick sent an e-mail to a colleague he believed was under pressure to cover up lapses by senior officers, asking him to “come clean” about his actions in the probe.

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