A military appeals court has overturned the conviction of a former Marine Corps scout sniper involved in desecrating the bodies of enemy fighters in Afghanistan in 2011, finding that the actions of the service’s top officer at the time tainted the case.
The decision, by the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, was handed down on Nov. 8, five years after the original conviction.
In December 2012, Staff Sgt. Joseph Chamblin was sentenced to 30 days’ confinement, docked in pay, and demoted to sergeant for participating in an incident in which multiple Marine snipers attached to 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, urinated on enemy corpses and then posted a video of the act to YouTube.
When the video got public attention, the incident made global headlines, creating a black eye for the Corps and prompting many prominent American leaders to denounce the snipers’ actions.
The scandal would continue to make headlines in the years following, after a Marine attorney, Maj. James Weirick, came forward to allege that the then-commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Jim Amos, had attempted to interfere with the cases to ensure harsh punishments for the Marines involved. Evidence of this alleged interference mounted.
A 2012 affidavit from then-Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, appointed by Amos as the oversight authority for the sniper cases, states that Amos told him the Marines involved needed to be “crushed” and discharged from the Corps.
Waldhauser, now the four-star commander of U.S. Africa Command, also alleged that Amos asked him whether he would give all the snipers general courts-martial, the highest form of criminal trial. When Waldhauser responded he would not, Amos allegedly told him he could make someone else the convening authority for the cases.
Two days later, Amos did just that, appointing then-Lt. Gen. Richard Mills to take over. He told Waldhauser he had “crossed the line” in their previous conversation and was removing Waldhauser to fix that problem.
Weirick and another attorney, Col. Jesse Gruter, who both worked for Mills when he took over the sniper cases, alleged in affidavits that Amos and his attorney, Robert Hogue, continued to exert influence over the sniper cases.
In February 2012, Hogue requested that photos and videos of the sniper incident be classified as secret, a move that Weirick and Gruter saw as improper and designed to disadvantage legal defense teams for the snipers facing charges.
When Gruter complained about the alleged improper classification, he claims Amos’ top lawyer, Maj. Gen. Vaughn Ary, tried to get him removed from Mills’ legal team.
In spring 2012, Amos took to the road with a presentation he called the “Heritage Brief,” a discussion with Marines intended to promote discipline and good behavior. The brief contained a photo of the sniper incident with the headline, “What Does America Think of Her Marines Today?”
Since the sniper cases were still being adjudicated, the brief raised concerns about unlawful command influence, a situation in which actions of a senior officer prejudice a legal case.
Around the same time, Amos met with Mills and asked him which Marines he planned to prosecute. Shortly thereafter, Lt. Gen. John Paxton, then-commander of II Marine Expeditionary Force, from which all the snipers were based, sent a memo to Amos with “updates and recommendations” about the sniper prosecutions.