Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C. (Jacquelyn Martin / AP)
An outspoken congressman says he is troubled by allegations the Marine Corps commandant and his legal advisers manipulated criminal cases stemming from a vulgar war-zone video.
Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican whose House district encompasses Camp Lejeune, contacted the Defense Department inspector general on July 2 to ask about that complaint. It was made in March by a Marine attorney who claims Gen. Jim Amos or others acting on his behalf sought to ensure stiff punishment for personnel connected to the video, which shows four scout snipers urinating on Taliban corpses in Afghanistan.
In his letter to Inspector General Lynne Halbrooks, Jones says: “I have great interest in making sure that our Marine Corps leaders operate in accordance with the law. ... I believe some serious questions have been raised during this case, and I find them to be very disconcerting. If there is wrongdoing ..., I urge you to promptly make the necessary changes to restore dignity to the commandant’s office.”
The commandant’s office has declined to discuss these allegations.
Jones’ letter singles out the prosecution of Capt. James Clement, who is charged with dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming an officer. He was on patrol with the scout snipers the day they made the video, July 27, 2011, but maintains he was neither aware of nor present during any wrongdoing.
Clement faces court-martial in November, but his defense attorneys contend the Marine Corps has taken extraordinary steps to suppress evidence in the case — material they say exonerates him and will ensure he receives a fair trial.
The urination video surfaced on YouTube in January 2012. It’s one of several the scout snipers made that day depicting a host of violations.
The videos and subsequent investigations were inappropriately classified on orders from the commandant’s top legal adviser, Robert Hogue, according to a legal motion filed in June by Clement’s defense attorneys. They cite the inspector general complaint, which was filed earlier this year by Maj. James Weirick, an attorney for the organization overseeing prosecution of these cases.
When the investigations were classified in February 2012, Afghanistan was in turmoil due to the inadvertent burning of the Koran by U.S. personnel at Bagram Air Base. The resulting riots left hundreds dead or wounded, including at least four U.S. troops.
As Marine Corps Times reported previously, emails between Marine attorneys indicate it was Gen. John Allen, then-commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, who pushed for the videos and investigations to be classified, fearing they would spark more unrest.
Clement is one of eight troops known to have faced disciplinary action as a result of the urination video. Another Marine, Sgt. Robert Richards, also awaits court-martial. The other six cases have been resolved.
Jones is a well-known advocate for rank-and-file Marines and their families. He has, for example, defended two pilots who were at the controls of an MV-22 Osprey when it crashed in Arizona in April 2000, killing them and 17 other Marines. He has lobbied the Marine Corps to update the record — so far to no avail — to clearly indicate the pilots were not to blame for the incident.
“Too many times it seems that those who are not in a position to defend themselves become the scapegoat,” Jones told Marine Corps Times. “... I’ve seen a pattern over the [years] because of the things I’ve been involved with.
“To me,” Jones added, “it’s all about honesty and integrity.”