Government Again Shows Its Inconsistency On Punishing The Mishandling Of Classified Documents
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Mishandling classified material can result in a variety of punishments, depending on who you are. If you’re a presidential candidate, the routing of hundreds of sensitive documents through an unsecured, private email server might result in a few conversations with the FBI, but not in any criminal charges. If you’re a retired general, routing classified material to your biographer/mistress might result in criminal charges, but not any time served. If you’re a whistleblower taking your complaints to the press, you’ll likely see some jail time to go along with your destroyed career.
And if you’re a Marine Corps officer trying to warn others of trouble headed their way, you’re more likely to be treated like Jason Brezler than Hillary Clinton, Gen. David Petraeus, or even former CIA Director Leon Panetta.
Brezler is facing dismissal from the Marine Corps for mishandling a classified document — one containing information about an allegedly corrupt Afghan police chief who had already been kicked off a US base by Brezler himself.
[T]he local police chief, Sarwar Jan, turned into a problem.
“Sarwar Jan, he was a threat to not only the Afghans but our own Marines,” Brezler says.
The chief was maybe linked to the Taliban. He was also alleged to be a pedophile who preyed on local boys — something alarmingly common among Afghan warlords.
Recently there’s been a debate about whether U.S. forces should tolerate Afghan allies who keep kids at their barracks. Back in 2010, there was no policy. Brezler couldn’t fire Sarwar Jan, but he could kick him off the base.
“We put Sarwar Jan on the next helicopter. And, once he left, we could have probably had a parade the next day through the bazaar. The Afghans were absolutely elated,” he says.
After returning stateside, Brezler received an email from an officer located in Afghanistan informing him that Sarwar Jan was once again residing in the base Brezler had kicked him out of — and had brought a group of underage boys with him. Brezler attached a classified report detailing the allegations against Jan and hit “Reply All.”
Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene — in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.
In some cases, Marines have been told to ignore the behavior. In other cases, they’ve been punished for trying to prevent it. Brezler’s concerns about Jan’s arrival at another base were never addressed. Instead, the Marines chose to go after him for sending a classified document to other Marines. Brezler even went through the proper channels, reporting himself for mishandling sensitive information. He was told it was just “minor spillage” — something that happened occasionally but generally without serious repercussions.
Less than three weeks after Brezler’s warning went out (and was apparently ignored), a 17-year-old Afghan male who had been living in Jan’s quarters stole a weapon and killed three unarmed Marines. When the Marine Corps resisted turning over information to the victims’ families, Brezler sought the help of Rep. Peter King. King took this info to the media and that’s when things got worse for Brezler.
And that’s when the U.S. Marine Corps got serious — about investigating Jason Brezler.
“Almost a year had gone by from the time, he had moved on, the Marine Corps had moved on,” says lawyer Mike Bowe. “A news story comes out that reveals that he’s talking to Congressman King about these murders, and three days later he is sent to a Board of Inquiry to be kicked out of the Marine Corps.”
The inquiry was retaliation, Bowe says, for embarrassing the Marine Corps brass. He says there were hundreds of similar cases of “spillage” the same year, and only two were punished. A Pentagon inspector general’s report concluded it was not retaliation.
At this point, the Marine Corps is offering him an honorable discharge — a “thanks, but no thanks” for his attempt to warn his fellow soldiers about the long list of allegations against police chief Sarwar Jan. Brezler sued for full reinstatement as a Marine and the discharge has been put on hold pending a possible jury trial later this year.
There are a handful of disturbing aspects of the Marine Corps’ dismissal of Brezler, not the least of which is its decision to ramp up its efforts to rid itself of him after it had been publicly embarrassed by a US congress member. It also highlights the absurdity — and danger — inherent to the military’s weirdly-selective non-interventionist policy: one deployed by an outside force playing World Police within its borders (decidedly interventionist) that draws the line at preventing the sexual abuse of minors on its bases by local officials.
The decision to go after the messenger — one that self-reported his mishandling of sensitive information — shows the government, by and large, cares more about protecting itself from embarrassment than solving its problems.