Lawmakers rally to cause of Marine jailed for Afghan criticisms

A growing number of conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill are rallying to the cause of a Marine lieutenant colonel jailed this week for his outspoken and repeated criticism of his superiors and what he said was their failure to take responsibility for the mishandling of the disorganized final days of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller lost his job as commander of the progressive Infantry Training Battalion at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune after posting a video demanding accountability from top military leaders following the August 26 suicide bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan that killed 13 U.S. service members and more than 160 Afghan citizens. He followed that up with several more basic videos posted online and already wrote about the gag order his superiors had issued demanding he stop.

This week he was moved to the brig at Camp Lejeune, N.C. because the Marine Corps considers him a flight risk and believes China could use as propaganda his videos demanding accountability from Pentagon leaders over their handling of Afghanistan, according to someone familiar with the case against the Marine officer. 

Lt. Col. Scheller’s father in an interview with The Washington Times called his son’s jailing “disgusting,” and now at the minimum three dozen lawmakers, led by Texas Republican Rep. Louis Gohmert, have written to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David H. Berger and the service’s top legal officer questioning the treatment of the lieutenant colonel. The clash comes amid rising criticisms of the Pentagon brass by some lawmakers that political conservatives in the ranks are being unfairly targeted since President Biden took office.

“This confinement appears to be simply for messaging, retribution and convenience” in violation of military legal statutes, the Hill letter read in part, urging Gen. Berger to move the lieutenant colonel to “the least restrictive form of housing” as his case is heard. The letter openly questions the Corps’s stated rationale that Lt. Col Scheller was incarcerated because he was a “flight risk.” 

In a statement released to The Times, Marine Corps officials confirmed Lt. Col. Scheller is being held pending an Article 32 preliminary hearing — similar to a pre-trial hearing in a civilian courtroom. possible charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice being considered in the case include contempt toward officials; failure to obey lawful general orders and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.

“The allegations against Lt. Col. Scheller are merely accusations. He is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Marine Corps officials said in a statement.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, asked about the case at her daily news briefing, declined to weigh in after it was noted President Biden praised active-duty military officers who went public with concerns about President Trump’s handling of a Ukraine arms deal.

“I don’t have all the details on these circumstances. I understand that’s going to be frustrating to you, but we will work to get you an answer on it,” Ms. Psaki said.

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