A Marine Corps officer who has waged a social media battle against top Pentagon officials over their handling of the withdrawal from the war in Afghanistan told the judge during his court martial on Thursday that he simply wanted let US military leaders admit their failures in Afghanistan.
“Since this enterprise began, not a single general officer has agreed to be accountable,” Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller said in prepared testimony, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times. He made the remarks after pleading guilty in proceedings at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, including one charge of conduct unbecoming of an officer.
“I am here pleading guilty. It is I who accept the responsibility. But it pains me deeply that my top leaders are unable to be so courageous, ”said Lt. Col. Scheller, who hoped his acceptance of guilt might convince senior Pentagon officials to recognize their own role in the collapse. of the 20-year American military campaign. in Afghanistan.
Once a rising star in the Marine Corps, Lt. Col. Scheller was battalion commander at Camp Lejeune when a suicide bomber killed 13 American soldiers – mostly his fellow Marines – and more than 160 Afghans at Hamid Karzai International Airport. in late August, during the chaos surrounding the American evacuation.
In the days following the suicide bombing, Lt. Col. Scheller posted a video of himself in uniform that quickly went viral on social media, where he criticized the lack of accountability of top US leaders. Further videos and statements on social media followed, as Lt. Col. Scheller continued to post them online, even after he was fired from his battalion command and ordered to stop publicizing his complaints.
In a video posted on August 29, he said he was resigning from his commission and urged others to “follow me and we will bring down the whole … system.”
At the time, Pentagon officials said they were aware of the videos and acknowledged that the days immediately following the suicide bombing in Kabul were “obviously a moving time for many Marines.” However, the Marine Corps stressed that angry social media posts by a commander against others higher in the chain of command were a blatant violation of protocol.
“There is a forum in which the leadership of the Marines can voice their disagreements with the chain of command, but it is not social media,” said Maj.Jim Stenger, Marine Corps spokesperson at the Pentagon, in a statement. at the time.
Lt. Col. Scheller was then placed in jail at Camp Lejeune for a week before charges, including one of disobeying an order, were laid against him.
The accusations sparked outrage from the public and several Republican lawmakers in Washington. U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, traveled to Camp Lejeune to speak out on behalf of Lt. Col. Scheller at Thursday’s court martial, according to the Jacksonville Daily News, which also reported that Representative Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene spoke on behalf of the Lt. Col. via teleconference.
“No one confessed. No one has taken responsibility “for the situation in Afghanistan,” Gohmert said, adding that the judge should take into account that Scheller “is an honest guy” when convicting him.
As part of the plea deal, Lt. Col. Scheller agreed to admit his guilt in exchange for punishment no worse than a letter of reprimand. The court martial judge signed the agreement. Any letter of reprimand or condemnation will come later from the Department of the Navy rather than the court.
As of Thursday, it was not immediately clear when that will happen.
Before announcing his resignation at the end of August, Lt. Col. Scheller was only about three years old from getting a comfortable 20-year pension. Under the plea arrangement that has been reached, he will now leave service at age 17 without a pension, although he may receive a “general under honorable” discharge.
With his parents in the courtroom on Thursday, Lt. Col. Scheller said the ordeal had taken its toll as his wife left him because of it. This week has been “a difficult week for me, personally and professionally,” he said in his prepared remarks.
He also accused the Marine Corps of leaking confidential documents – including his medical records – to “Task and Purpose,” a Washington, DC news website that covers the military.
“I was portrayed as a violent extremist (and) a fascist and the journalist even made a connection with Hitler,” Lt. Col. Scheller said, claiming that “the Marine Corps and” Task and Purpose “were working together in order to smear my name. “
The task and goal did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Times Thursday night.
Lt. Col. Scheller, meanwhile, agreed his actions were public and “very moving,” but said he believed what he had done was in the best long-term interests of the Marine Corps.
“I am held accountable for my actions. General officers should be held accountable for their failures, ”he said in his remarks in court.
• This article is based in part on press service reports.