A federal judge has overturned a Marine Corps decision to discharge Marine Maj. Jason Brezler, who was accused of mishandling classified information after he warned Marines in Afghanistan about an Afghan police chief days before a deadly insider attack in August 2012.
A board of inquiry recommended in December 2013 that Brezler be discharged for using his personal email account to send classified information to Marines in Afghanistan about an Afghan police chief accused of sexually assaulting young boys. Brezler was also accused of taking classified documents home from Afghanistan so he could write a book.
But Brezler filed a lawsuit contesting the Marines' decision, claiming the Corps wrongfully retaliated against him for contacting Capitol Hill about his concerns.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco in New York ruled that the government had not granted Brezler full access to records related to his claim. Brezler was referred to the board of inquiry, which adjudicates claims of officer misconduct, after a story published in Marine Corps Times reported that Brezler asked for help from Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.
"For example, if communications prior to the Marine Corps Times article indicate that the Navy did not contemplate a BOI [board of inquiry] , or indicate an affirmative decision not to initiate a BOI, such communications would be highly relevant to Major Brezler's claim that the BOI was retaliatory," Bianco wrote in Tuesday's decision.
Brezler will remain in the Marine Corps and Bianco ordered the Navy to hold a new board of inquiry hearing, at which Brezler could "fully and fairly present relevant evidence" to support his claims of retaliation.
"This is a stunning rebuke of the fundamentally unjust proceedings to which this decorated Marine was subjected for over three years," Brezler's attorney Michael Bowe said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Marine Corps had no comment by deadline on Tuesday.
Maj. Jason Brezler, left, was recommended for a discharge from the Corps for sending classified information by email. A federal court judge from New York has asked the Marine Corps to furnish proof that it did not investigate Brezler for contacting his congressman over the charges.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kevin Carroll
After receiving a request from a Marine captain, Brezler used his personal email account on July, 24 2012 to send classified information about Sarwar Jan, an Afghan police chief who had arrived at Forward Operating Base Delhi in Afghanistan. Brezler had kicked Sarwar off a different U.S. base two years earlier for alleged corruption, links to the Taliban and reports that he trafficked in young boys as part of a sex-slave practice known as "bacha bazi".
Then on Aug. 10, 2012, a boy described in Bianco's decision as Sarwar's "sex slave" killed three Marines at FOB Delhi: Staff Sgt. Scott Dickinson, 29, Cpl. Richard Rivera, 20, and Lance Cpl. Greg Buckley.
After Brezler notified his commanding officer that he had sent classified information from his personal email account, he was relieved of command and received an unfavorable fitness report. In March 2013, Brezler met with King, who sent then-Commandant Gen. James Amos a letter that July raising concerns that the Marines had not followed proper procedures when issuing Brezler's fitness report.
When Marine Corps Times reported that Brezler had asked King for help, "the article precipitated a whirlwind of e-mails among high-ranking Marine Corps officials," Bianco wrote. Five days later, Brezler learned he would appear before the board of inquiry.
The federal judge ruled that there was no evidence that the Marine Corps intended to send Brezler to a board of inquiry before the Marine Corps Times story was published, he wrote in his decision. The judge also found a colonel's explanation that he waited six months before making an oral recommendation that Brezler go before the board was "completely undeveloped in the record."
"The Judge correctly found that highly relevant documents and information were withheld from the defense, that the excuses for doing so were 'completely unsupported', and that Major Brezler was 'completely deprived . . . of any meaningful opportunity' to rebut critical claims," Bowe said in his statement.
In his decision, Bianco stressed that he was not ruling whether the board of inquiry was an act of retaliation.
Instead, the judge concluded that the Navy did not provide Brezler with all relevant documents, which "clearly prevented Major Brezler from fully and fairly litigating his retaliation claims" and "potentially deprived decision-makers within the Marine Corps and the Department of the Navy of critical information relevant to their assessment of those claims," Bianco wrote.