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Military judge blasts Marine Corps's handling of officer who criticized Afghanistan withdrawal
A military judge on Friday blasted the Marine Corps' handling of the case of an officer who criticized the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan via videos posted to social media.
Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller a day earlier had pleaded guilty to six charges stemming from videos he posted to Facebook and LinkedIn in which he demanded accountability from those in leadership over the messy evacuation.
But instead of taking the prosecution's punishment request - where Scheller would have had to forfeit $5,000 of pay a month for six months and receive a letter of reprimand - Marine Corps judge Col. Glen Hines Hines only directed he forfeit $5,000 pay for one month, Military Times reported.
In explaining his decision, Hines said in Scheller's videos showed a "confused" and "significantly frustrated" man instead of a potentially violent service member the military portrayed Scheller as in charge sheets, according to the outlet.
Scheller on Thursday during a court-martial hearing was convicted of six misdemeanor charges, including contempt toward officers, disrespect toward superior commissioned officers, willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer, failure to obey lawful general orders, dereliction in the performance of duties and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.
The convictions stemmed from his now viral videos posted on Aug. 26 in which he called out senior leaders, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, for the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal, during which 13 service members were killed in a suicide bombing at Kabul's airport.
That and subsequent posts led to Scheller being relieved of his command, a week in confinement in the brig and the six convictions.
Hines did reprimand Scheller for his contempt of Austin, calling the comments very "serious" and "corrosive," as they can "degrade public trust" in the military.
But the judge also called out the Marines for placing Scheller in the brig prior to the trial, a move that raised the "specter of unlawful command influence," and created intense media scrutiny that doesn't happen for "99 percent" of other courts-martial, Military Times reported.
Tim Parlatore, one of Scheller's attorneys, said he was very pleased with the results and that the judge's decision sends a message to senior leaders.
"When senior leaders [or] certain people decide to take certain actions like leaking medical records, like putting somebody in pretrial confinement [when there is] no risk of flight, there should be consequences," he said, according to the outlet.
Also under his plea agreement, Scheller will resign his commission and receive an honorable discharge or general under honorable conditions.
In addition, Scheller will lose his retirement benefits for resigning.