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Generals' emails raise questions in Marine officer's legal case

Dec. 1, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Enduring Freedom
Capt. Jason C. Brezler, a reservist with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, meets with Afghan leaders in Now Zad, Afghanistan, in December 2009. The reservist faces a board of inquiry for transmitting classified information over an unsecured network and having classified documents on his personal computer. (Cpl. Albert F. Hunt / Marine Corps)
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A Marine Corps officer who faces the end of his military career for transmitting classified information over an unsecured network wants the service to replace the three-star general overseeing his prosecution, saying he may have discouraged another general from coming to the embattled officer’s defense.

The case against Maj. Jason Brezler, a civil affairs officer in the Marine Corps Reserve and New York City firefighter, stems from a warning he sent last year to U.S. troops in Afghanistan about a shady Afghan police chief whose teenage “tea boy” is accused of killing three Marines at at joint base in Helmand province. Shortly after he sent the warning, his colleague expressed concern that Brezler had shared classified information through improper channels. Both officers self-reported, and an investigation ensued.

Brezler also is accused of mishandling more than 100 other classified documents by keeping them on a personal hard drive. He says his team was not issued computers and resorted to working on their personal laptops and sharing documents on thumb drives.

Brezler has been ordered to an administrative hearing, called a board of inquiry, at which he will face accusations of substandard performance and misconduct, or moral or professional dereliction. The hearing is scheduled for December in New Orleans, headquarters of Marine Forces Reserve.

In late November, Brezler’s attorney, Kevin Carroll, wrote to Maj. Chip Hodge, a senior trial counsel for reserve matters, seeking to remove Lt. Gen. Richard Mills as the case’s convening authority. The 22-page document, obtained by Marine Corps Times, calls attention to an email exchange between Mills, who is commander of Marine Forces Reserve, and Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, a former regimental commander who worked with Brezler during a 2010 combat deployment to Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

In October, after Brezler’s case became the subject of several mainstream media reports, Kennedy emailed Mills, who commanded all Marine forces in Afghanistan during that 2010 deployment, and offered to write a letter on the major’s behalf. Kennedy is now the deputy commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force in Japan.

“I fear that some momentum has built to pillory this officer for ill-considered execution of otherwise WORTHY and honorable intent. His performance in Now Zad during our deployment was stellar,” Kennedy wrote, referring to a particularly challenging district in Helmand province. “Am afraid he has been scapegoated by non-Helmand tested staff officers.”

Mills responded with a cautionary note. “You need to get all the facts in the case,” it says, “... no one is getting pilloried ... the incident that he is using in his own defense is just a small slice of it ... he could have been court-martialed ... but I am glad to offer your letter to the BOI.”

Carroll’s letter to Hodge contends: “In the context of a conversation between higher- and lower-ranking officers, three-star General Mills’ implication was that one-star General Kennedy should no
t offer a letter on behalf of Major Brezler. And indeed no such letter has yet been received by Respondent’s counsel.”

That’s because Kennedy opted not to write one after learning more details about Brezler’s case, Kennedy told Marine Corps Times. Mills did not discourage him from writing a letter in support of Brezler, Kennedy said, expressing frustration that his private correspondence was leaked to the media.

Kennedy is not alone in his frustration. A Marine official at the Pentagon said the service’s leaders are dismayed by the media attention this case and others have received in recent months. In such matters, the Marine Corps often defers comment — or says very little — because there are open investigations.

The official, who spoke to Marine Corps Times on the condition of anonymity, said there is concern at Marine Corps headquarters with the perception such stories create among the public and among junior Marines. It’s “a distraction,” the official said, one that impedes the military justice process from working as it’s supposed to.

“No one’s hiding anything,” the official said. “The process is there for a reason. It doesn’t mean you’re guilty or that the leadership thinks you’re guilty. It means there’s enough evidence that needs to be sorted out through the process.”

Questions remain

But questions remain. Carroll’s letter to Hodge also quotes a separate email, sent Oct. 19, in which Mills told four general officers, including Amos, that his office had received a letter regarding Brezler from a concerned congressman, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. “We have responded appropriately and will ensure that Maj. Brezler has a full and fair BOI,” Mills wrote. “Of note, Maj. Brezler could possibly have been sent to a court-martial as he would have been on orders at the time he took and transported the classified material out of theater.”

Carroll contests Mills’ claims regarding the potential of the case going to court-martial and said the emails provide evidence that Mills “pre-judged and mis-judged” Brezler’s case in dealings with other officers.

“How could Major Brezler receive a ‘full and fair’ Board of Inquiry from General Mills if, as the board’s convening authority, General Mills has already told the Commandant that he believes there is at least probable cause Brezler has committed a crime?” he wrote.

Hodge did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

A spokesman for Marine Forces Reserve, Col. Fran Piccoli, said the Marine Corps would not comment on Brezler’s case because officials did not want to influence the board’s decision-making process or jeopardize due process.

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