A whistleblower complaint alleged that commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Jim Amos, above, and his advisers tried to manipulate the military justice system in various ways to ensure harsh punishments for the scout snipers at the heart of the infamous 2011 war zone urination scandal. (Lance Cpl. Scott W. Whiting/Marine Corps)
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Marine Corps officials did not improperly classify war zone videos used in a series of high-profile court cases, the federal agency responsible for supervising the government’s classification system has decided.
The allegation of improper classification has been at the heart of a whistleblower complaint filed by a Marine Corps attorney, Maj. James Weirick, who alleged that commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Jim Amos and his advisers tried to manipulate the military justice system in various ways to ensure harsh punishments for the scout snipers at the heart of the infamous 2011 war zone urination scandal.
In a four-page letter sent today, Information Security Oversight Office director John Fitzpatrick told Weirick that the office had reviewed his complaint and found no evidence that the commandant’s office had acted illegally.
Weirick alleged that Amos’s senior civilian legal adviser, Robert Hogue, sought to classify the videos, witness statements, and other materials, in efforts to hinder the defense case for one of the Marines accused in the scandal. He also said the videos, which had been shared freely at that point between Marines in the sniper unit, were classified over his objections, and those of other senior Marine lawyers.
Fitzpatrick said that even though the videos in question were not filmed or owned by government officials, they were placed under government control and subject to classification when they were confiscated by military personnel after the video depicting snipers urinating on enemy corpses was posted to YouTube.
He said he “spoke at length” with the officer who ordered the videos classified, Lt. Gen. Richard Tryon, then-deputy commandant for Plans, Policies and Operations at the Pentagon, and was convinced that the motivation behind the classification decision was the safety of personnel and the protection of operational security. Tryon’s move to refer the materials to other classification authorities — he would declassify them six months later on the recommendation of U.S. Central Command — indicated due diligence on his part and a respect for the classification system, Fitzpatrick wrote.
“I appreciate the time and energy Director Fitzpatrick and his staff dedicated to this investigation,” Weirick said in a statement. “This demonstrates both their professionalism and the importance of a properly-administered classification system.”
And while delays in courtroom procedure due to the classification decision might be regrettable, he said, in this case they were not unusual or inappropriate.
“I want you to know that I reviewed your complaint thoroughly and in good faith,” Fitzpatrick wrote at the conclusion of his letter. “I consider the reporting of perceived wrongdoing or poor performance by those trusted with implementing [classification law] as being critical to the underpinning of the classification system. Without new information that contradicts my above findings, I will consider this issue now closed.”
Fitzpatrick copied Amos, assistant commandant Gen. John “Jay” Paxton, current head of PP&O, and acting Marine Corps Inspector General Carl Shelton, as well as Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., who has aggressively defended Weirick and pushed for a thorough review of his whistleblower complaint.
Late last year, the Defense Department Inspector General closed its case on another prong of Weirick’s complaint, finding that Amos did not show favoritism to then-Maj. James B. Conway, the executive officer of the sniper unit and the son of Amos’s predecessor, Gen. James T. Conway.
The IG is reportedly still investigating the remaining prong of the complaint: Weirick’s allegation that Amos removed the three-star general tasked with overseeing prosecution for the sniper cases, Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, after a meeting in which Waldhauser refused to ensure that the defendants would be kicked out of the Marine Corps. Amos has denied ever asking that the Marines be “crushed or kicked out,” though Waldhauser attested to his language in a sworn statement made last year.
It’s not clear when the IG may make a decision regarding this allegation.