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Amos breaks silence on scout sniper scandal: 'I never said I wanted them crushed'

Feb. 17, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, left, removed Lt. Gen. Thomas Walhauser, right, as the consolidated disposition authority for prosecuting the cases against Marines involved in videotaping themselves urinating on dead Taliban fighters.
Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, left, removed Lt. Gen. Thomas Walhauser, right, as the consolidated disposition authority for prosecuting the cases against Marines involved in videotaping themselves urinating on dead Taliban fighters. (Sgt. Michael Walters / Marine Corps)
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The Marine Corps’ top general has ended his silence on accusations he abused his authority to ensure Marines were punished for an inappropriate war-zone video, vehemently denying in an interview with NPR that he told a subordinate general he wanted those embroiled in the scandal “crushed” and kicked out of the service.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos spoke to Renee Montagne of NPR’s Morning Edition during his visit to Los Angeles last week. During the interview, which aired Monday, Amos was asked about his involvement in the legal proceedings stemming from a YouTube video that shows four Marine scout snipers urinating on enemy corpses in Afghanistan.

“That led to a cascade of accusations,” Montagne said in the interview, “the main one at the beginning was that you used your influence as the top general unlawfully.”

After a brief silence, Amos said: “I have never, ever said I wanted them crushed or kicked out. I don’t recall at all saying that. What I do recall is there was some motivation on my part, without getting into the exact matters of the meeting, that I questioned some early decisions by the commander. Once I left that meeting, I went, ‘OK, that probably wasn’t the right thing to do’ as it relates to what we call undue command influence.”

That commander was Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, whom in January 2012 Amos appointed to oversee the Marine Corps’ prosecution of those connected to the urination video. Amos removed Waldhauser from that role about a month later, immediately after their meeting, and gave the job to another three-star general to eliminate any bearing the commandant’s comments may have had on Waldhauser’s handling of the cases, Amos told NPR.

“And then I stayed completely out of it,” he added.

As Marine Corps Times first reported last summer, Waldhauser provided a sworn statement to the defense attorneys for two Marines who were disciplined for the video. In that statement, Waldhauser said that, during their meeting, Amos told him he wanted the offenders “crushed” and “discharged from the Marine Corps when this was all over.” When Waldhauser pushed back, according to his sworn statement, Amos said he could remove Waldhauser from the case, and later directed the Marine Corps’ assistant commandant to deliver news he was doing exactly that.

Montagne asked Amos whether Waldhauser may have gotten the impression he was removed for questioning the commandant.

“I’ve kept my mouth shut for a year and a half, and I think that’s absolutely specious,” Amos replied. “I mean, I can’t speak for him, but I can speak for myself.”

All the Marines embroiled in the urination scandal were treated justly, Amos said, with some accepting non-judicial punishments and others receiving a demotion in rank at court proceedings. Amos said he couldn’t remember if any had been discharged because of the incident.

Of the eight Marines punished in relation to the scandal, only one faces the prospect of involuntary discharge: Capt. James Clement, who was recommended for separation at his current rank at a board of inquiry hearing last fall for failing to supervise Marines on a patrol. He is appealing the decision.

“Certainly none of them have been crushed or thrown out of the Marine Corps,” Amos said. “And that’s an important point.”

The allegations surrounding Amos surfaced last May, after a Marine attorney working for Waldhauser’s replacement filed a complaint with the Defense Department inspector general. In his complaint, Maj. James Weirick accused Amos and his legal advisers of exercising unlawful command influence in transferring the sniper case from Waldhauser to Weirick’s boss at the time, Lt. Gen. Richard Mills.

The commandant’s decision to reassign the urination cases was not explained publicly before Waldhauser’s sworn statement emerged in July. Two months prior, a source within the commandant’s office told Marine Corps Times that Waldhauser was removed because his future role as the defense secretary’s top military adviser was of supreme importance and he needed time to prepare. That explanation proved untrue.

Waldhauser now serves with the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. He is the director of operations, plans and joint force development. Waldhauser is overseeing an ethics review, begun in 2012 and spearheaded by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, aimed at reinforcing the professional ethical behavior of senior officers.

Weirick’s complaint to the Pentagon IG also alleged that Amos sought to shield the son of his predecessor as commandant from punitive action related to the case, and that Amos and his legal advisers improperly ordered investigative materials in the urination cases to be classified for national security purposes, hindering the accused Marines’ legal defense in the process. Late last year, the IG found that Weirick’s favoritism claim was unsubstantiated.

And while it remains unclear whether the IG’s office is looking into other aspects of Weirick’s complaint, another federal agency, the Information Security Oversight Office, has opened an inquiry into the whistle-blower’s contention Marine officials abused the classification process. Marine Corps headquarters maintains that given security concerns in Afghanistan when the urination video surfaced, classifying these materials was prudent.

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