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WaPo: Marine officer to plead out over Afghanistan criticism of command

Word of this deal began leaking a week ago, when Coffee or Die first reported on an offer between Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller and military prosecutors. The idea was to implement a “de-escalation and mitigation” plan, according to documents seen by Carl Prine, that would end with Scheller’s discharge and his benefits intact.

The Washington Post confirmed the report last night, noting that the deal comes just prior to the start of Lt. Col. Scheller’s court martial:

Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller is scheduled for court-martial at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina on Thursday, and faces charges that include disrespect toward superior commissioned officers, willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer, and dereliction in the performance of duties. He burst into public view in August when, in the immediate aftermath of a suicide bombing that killed 13 U.S. troops and about 170 Afghans, he posted a video while in uniform questioning why no senior leader had admitted making mistakes in how the withdrawal was carried out.

One of Scheller’s attorneys, Tim Parlatore, said in a phone interview that he could not yet get into the specifics of a pretrial agreement because some of the details are “still up in the air.” But he said the case began with Scheller demanding accountability from others, and it would “make him a hypocrite” if the Marine did not accept responsibility for his own actions.

The Marine hopes to avoid jail time and secure either an honorable discharge or a general discharge under honorable conditions.

“Our hope is for him to get a letter of reprimand, and no more,” Parlatore said.

The question of accountability looms large over this case, and not just for Scheller, who had offered to resign his commission at the time of his public castigation of command. That has to produce some sort of accountability to maintain proper military discipline, a point that Scheller himself made in the video. Here it is again, in case you missed it in August:

Scheller knew the risks of publicly criticizing the chain of command and the damage it would do to military discipline. The proper manner for Scheller to make those issues known would be to first go through his chain of command, then to Congress if that didn’t work. Public criticism should only be done after resigning commissions and exiting the military.

Scheller insisted that immediate public criticism was necessary in this case in order to force some accountability for the badly flawed and borderline cowardly manner of the American retreat. At the time of his video, those choices had just cost 13 military members their lives. But this kind of social-media attack by senior officers on commanders does create discipline and trust issues within a military structure, and to let Scheller get away with it would be to incentivize more of it — possibly a lot more of it, if Scheller’s criticisms about chronic ineptitude are accurate.

But accountability isn’t only a problem for Scheller. It’s a problem for the Pentagon too, which has ducked the issue of abandoning Americans by shifting the blame to the State Department. The manner of retreat from Kabul raises all sorts of questions as to why general officers didn’t more forcefully argue for a robust presence to evacuate civilians ahead of the military withdrawal, and why no one resigned when Joe Biden refused to heed that advice.

A public court-martial of Scheller would make that need for accountability very, very public. It might have ended up being the most embarrassing court-martial for the US military since Billy Mitchell, whose court-martial somewhat parallels Scheller’s case. Hence, the prosecutors in this case have almost certainly been tasked with finding the quietest possible conclusion to this mess. If that means letting Scheller keep his benefits and getting out of the Corps quietly, so be it.

It doesn’t sound like the deal is quite set at the moment, but I’d be surprised if it turned out any differently. Once it has concluded, though, I’d be surprised if Scheller didn’t start getting a lot more specific about his criticisms of the Afghanistan operation. And those might be broader than people assume:

Scheller has also criticized Republicans, including former president Donald Trump. In a Facebook post on Sept. 25, he wrote that “everyone” had told Scheller to “kiss the ring” and seek Trump’s help, but he said that he didn’t want to and that “I hate” how Trump “divided the country.”

“Tell your son to stop tweeting about me,” Scheller wrote, a reference to Donald Trump Jr. “Your whole family knows nothing about US or our sacrifices. I could never work with you.”

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