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Congressman wants Navy secretary to investigate Marine Corps commandant

Sep. 10, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Clockwise from top left: Gen. James Amos, Marine Corps commandant; Capt. James Clement; Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus; Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C.
Clockwise from top left: Gen. James Amos, Marine Corps commandant; Capt. James Clement; Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus; Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C. (Amos: Marine Corps; Clement: Courtesy; Mabus: Navy)
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A North Carolina congressman wants Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to investigate the Marine Corps commandant’s controversial involvement in legal cases stemming from an inappropriate war-zone video.

Republican Rep. Walter Jones has taken interest in the service’s prosecution of Capt. James Clement, the only officer to be charged criminally in connection with the video showing four enlisted scout snipers urinating on dead insurgents in Afghanistan. Clement’s case was abruptly dismissed Friday, but he still faces administrative punishment and possible dismissal from the service.

In a Sept. 3 letter to Mabus, Jones says “my concern is that Captain Clement’s future has been irreparably damaged due to decisions made by the commandant,” Gen. Jim Amos, and his legal advisers. The congressman’s letter cites three issues raised by Clement’s defense team: “unlawful command influence, improper classification of evidence and serious issues with discovery,” a reference to the disclosure of information prior to legal proceedings.

Jones has asked Mabus to “personally address this possible abuse and ask for an investigation.”

“I understand that there are very serious issues currently facing our country,” Jones’ letter states, “but it is imperative to the integrity of the USMC, and our country as a whole, to make sure there is no abuse of power or misconduct in our military judicial proceedings.”

Mabus’ spokeswoman, Cmdr. Tamara Lawrence, issued a brief written statement in response to questions about Jones’ letter. “The secretary appreciates Congressman Jones’ letter and values his concern for the Navy and Marine Corps and our service members,” it says. “To preserve the secretary’s ability to adjudicate any matters that may result from ongoing investigations, it would be inappropriate to comment any further at this time.”

A spokesman for Amos, Maj. David Nevers, said the commandant’s office is aware of Jones’ letter to Mabus but declined to comment on it.

Clement, an infantry officer, was charged with dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming an officer after an investigation into the the video that created an international uproar when it appeared online in January 2012. He’s one of eight Marines to face disciplinary action as a result of the incident, which occurred in July 2011 during a patrol in Musa Qala, a volatile district in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

The urination video is one of several the scout snipers made that day depicting a host of violations, from photographing the dead bodies to needlessly firing weapons. Clement was on patrol with them, serving as the communications link between the sniper team and fellow officers at a nearby command center, but maintains he was neither aware of nor present during any wrongdoing.

His case was reviewed during a fact-finding hearing in April. The investigating officer dismissed most of the charges but recommended Clement receive nonjudicial punishment for what the Marine Corps saw as his failure to stop the enlisted Marines from indiscriminately firing weapons. Clement refused NJP, setting the stage for his court-martial, which had been scheduled for November.

The Corps dropped its charges against him just days ahead of a hearing — scheduled for Wednesday — expected to feature testimony from two Marine attorneys who voiced concern about potential unlawful command influence in the urination cases. One of them, Maj. James Weirick, filed an explosive complaint in March accusing Amos, or others acting on his behalf, of concealing efforts to manipulate the legal process and ensure severe punishment for the Marines involved.

That complaint is pending with the Defense Department inspector general.

Court documents and emails, obtained by Marine Corps Times as part of a months-long investigation into the allegations surrounding the commandant, suggest the Marine Corps sought to block Clement’s attorneys from accessing evidence, including witness statements and related communication between the commandant, his legal advisers and several Marine generals. In July, Clement’s defense team filed a motion to dismiss the case, citing — among other things — a signed declaration by Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, whom Amos stripped of his authority to oversee the urination cases after Waldhauser refused to prosecute them as aggressively as Amos wanted.

Clement now faces an administrative board that will decide what punishment is warranted for his alleged “substandard performance of duty, misconduct and moral or professional dereliction” in connection with the case, according to a notice sent to Clement last week by Lt. Gen. Kenneth Glueck, who assumed oversight of the case this summer upon becoming commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command. This panel of Marine officers could decide to separate Clement from the service with an other-than-honorable discharge.

Col. Sean Gibson, a Marine spokesman for Glueck, said the general reviewed the case over a matter of weeks and “determined that an administrative process is more appropriate to address Captain Clement’s conduct.” The timing of the hearing scheduled for this week had no bearing on Glueck’s decision, Gibson said.

“In fact,” he added, “the government was fully prepared to litigate all motions brought before the court including allegations of unlawful command influence and discovery violations.”

Jones told Marine Corps Times that the Corps’ decision to drop the charges against Clement does not diminish his concern.

“I think it’s very important that he still investigates how all of this came about,” the congressman said of Mabus. “The integrity of the Marine Corps is at stake.”

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