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Judge denies attorney's motion to question commandant in Taliban urination case

But two generals will respond to allegations that Amos exerted unlawful command influence

Jun. 21, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Guy Womack, defense attorney for Sgt. Robert Richards, will question Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, left, and Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, center, regarding allegations that Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, right, exerted unlawful command influence in the case against his client.
Guy Womack, defense attorney for Sgt. Robert Richards, will question Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, left, and Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, center, regarding allegations that Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, right, exerted unlawful command influence in the case against his client. ()
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Two three-star Marine Corps generals have agreed to answer an attorney’s questions regarding the possibility of unlawful command influence by the service's commandant in what has become one of the most high-profile cases involving wrongdoing by U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

On Friday morning, Col. Bill Riggs, a military judge, denied a motion to depose Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos and two other generals, but said attorney Guy Womack could revisit the motion after he interviews Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser and Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, Womack said.

Womack represents Sgt. Robert Richards, one of four Marine scout snipers filmed two years ago urinating on dead Taliban fighters. Womack believes Amos tried to prejudice Marines against his client even before formal charges were brought. He filed a motion earlier this month to question Amos under oath, along with Waldhauser, who serves as the senior military adviser to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Mills, who heads Marine Corps Combat Development Command, which has overseen the prosecution of cases related to the incident.

Waldhauser and Mills have agreed to be questioned, said Col. Sean Gibson, a spokesman for Mills and his command.

"The judge denied the motion to depose all of the general officers because [the defense] failed to show that the generals were unwilling to be interviewed or that they would be unavailable to attend a future session of court to provide evidence," Gibson said.

During a 20-minute motions hearing Friday at Camp Lejeune, N.C., the judge advised Womack to question Waldhauser and Mills first, then to return with a better foundation for his motion to depose Amos if he still felt it was necessary, Womack said. Womack's interviews with Waldhauser and Mills will take place in coming weeks. He said he hopes to ask the generals about statements Amos made to them regarding the urination case.

Richards faces court-martial in August on several charges related to the urination video, which ignited an international controversy when it appeared on YouTube in January 2012. At least six other Marines, all members of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, at Camp Lejeune, have been disciplined for their roles in the incident. Capt. James Clement, then executive officer for the battalion’s Kilo Company, also awaits trial.

Earlier this year, a Marine attorney who works for Mills filed a complaint with the Defense Department inspector general alleging that Amos and four of his legal advisers inappropriately inserted themselves into the process to ensure severe punishments for those connected to the video. Amos transferred authority for the urination case from Waldhauser, then the head of Marine Corps Forces Central Command, to Mills. Womack has said Waldhauser intended to administer only nonjudicial punishment for Richards until Amos intervened.

The IG complaint also alleges the commandant’s legal advisers sought to classify evidence assembled in the investigation despite objections from Mills’ legal team and four civilian security specialists employed by the Corps.

“There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the commandant may have been involved too closely in this case,” Womack said. “The specter has been raised with the IG complaints.”

Womack said Amos more than muddied the waters with his 2012 Heritage Brief tour, during which he addressed thousands of Marines at bases around the world condemning the acts depicted in the video.

“We believe the commandant pointed out these individuals as criminals and people who do not belong in the Marine Corps,” he said. “That will render it impossible for Sgt. Richards and Capt. Clement to get a fair trial, if the commandant has gone around the world saying these Marines are criminals.”

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