Marines should retain officer who sent classified warning to colleagues before attack, panel finds
By DAN LAMOTHE | The Washington Post | Published: August 12, 2019
A Marine who used his personal email account to send a classified warning to his colleagues about a corrupt Afghan police chief should be allowed to continue serving, a board of military officers has determined in the high-profile case.
Maj. Jason Brezler sent the warning in July 2012, about two weeks before a teenage boy working for the chief opened fire on unarmed Marines in a fatal attack on a military base in southern Afghanistan.
Brezler, a Marine reserve officer and member of the New York City Fire Department, reported his action to his commanders after the attack, and they sent him to an administrative board of inquiry to determine whether he should be discharged.
The new determination by a panel of three Marine colonels last week marks the second time that a board of inquiry has reviewed the case. A board of officers found in December 2013 that the Marine Corps should end Brezler's career, prompting him to sue the service and allege that he was being punished for communicating with a member of Congress, Rep. Peter King, R.-N.Y., about the incident.
District Judge Joseph Bianco ruled on Brezler's behalf in December 2016, finding that the Navy Department had prevented Brezler from fully litigating his claims of retaliation.
The Marine Corps brought him to another board of inquiry last week, but the results were different this time.
A worksheet detailing the board's findings obtained by The Washington Post shows that the three colonels substantiated a failure on Brezler's part to "properly discharge the duties expected of an officer of his grade" and obey a regulation that requires classified information to remain on "official premises."
But the panel unanimously declined to substantiate other allegations, including a dereliction of duty, paving the way for Brezler to potentially continue serving.
"I am grateful beyond words for the opportunity to once again serve as a United States Marine," Brezler said in a statement provided through his civilian attorney, Michael Bowe. "I love the Marine Corps, am committed to its Marines and mission, and can't wait to contribute again."
The findings of a board of inquiry can be rejected by the Navy Department, but they are typically accepted. Marine officials said Monday that they were looking into the results.
The case has become a cause celebre for a diverse group of advocates including retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, President Donald Trump's former chief of staff, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a Democratic presidential candidate.
It also has drawn attention to the use of teen boys as "sex slaves" by some senior Afghan leaders.
Brezler was deployed to Afghanistan from 2009 to early 2010 as Marines successfully lobbied the Afghan government to remove an Afghan police chief, Sarwar Jan, from control in Helmand province's Now Zad district because of his suspected ties to the Taliban, according to Marine Corps documents. He resurfaced as the police chief in another district, Garmsir, prompting Marines there to ask Brezler for information about him.
From the United States, Brezler sent the Marines a classified warning about the police chief using his Yahoo email account, and then told military authorities that he had done so. That triggered an investigation in which Brezler first received a negative job evaluation then was ordered to appear before a board of inquiry. Marine officials said they also found classified information on his personal computer that he planned to use to write a book.
Meanwhile, the police chief's servant, Ainuddin Khudairaham, opened fire at Forward Operating Base Delhi on Aug. 10, 2012, killing Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley, 21; Staff Sgt. Scott Dickinson, 29; and Cpl. Richard Rivera Jr., 20, and wounding a fourth Marine. The shooter was convicted as a juvenile in July 2014 and sentenced to 7 1/2 years in confinement, the maximum under Afghan law for a minor, Marine officials said.
A Navy Department legal analysis of the case said that a new board of inquiry for Brezler would increase attention on the case "in the aftermath of significant media attention to the allegations regarding the practice of keeping personal sex slaves in Afghanistan." The police chief in the insider attack was accused of using the shooter in such a manner.
The Marine Corps ordered Brezler to appear before another board of inquiry last week in Louisiana at the headquarters of Marine Corps Forces Reserve. Among those testifying were Kelly and retired Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, who served as Brezler's commanding general in Afghanistan, Bowe said.
It's not clear how the decision could effect Brezler's benefits or rank in the Marine Corps. He potentially could petition for corrections to his service record.
Bowe and Brezler's military attorney, Maj. Jason Wareham, said in a statement that the latest board of inquiry "reached the right decision." The three officers involved in it, all colonels, were "extremely diligent," the lawyers said.