A Marine officer who was a prominent online critic of the Biden administration’s Afghanistan withdrawal was released Tuesday after a week in solitary confinement – but the combat veteran still faces charges stemming from the withering posts, setting up a court-martial for a man who’s being called a “political prisoner.”
Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller Jr. had been confined without charges in the military jail at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, since Sept. 28 after allegedly violating a gag order.
Though he was conditionally released on Tuesday afternoon, charges were filed, and he’s set to face them at court-martial, lawyers for his family confirmed to Newsmax, adding that Scheller is also still subject to “the unlawful gag order.” The exact charges have yet to be revealed.
The military’s swift response to Scheller, who called for “accountability” in an online video post after August’s Afghanistan withdrawal, came under fire, and has grabbed the attention of several high-profile defenders.
They now question why Maj. Gen. Julian Alford of the Marine Corps Training Command would go to such lengths – despite the seemingly modest scope of the allegations concerning Scheller – and make a “mountain out of a molehill.”
“Our hope is [Alford] will see that it will be much better for mental health for all who fought in Afghanistan not to try to bury this guy as a political prisoner for years to come,” Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, told Newsmax.
Gohmert sent a letter on Friday seeking answers from Marine Gen. David Berger and Maj. Gen. David Bligh, but said he has yet to receive a reply.
The Scheller case is particularly concerning to observers who believe it follows a pattern established by the current civilian Department of Justice of lengthy pretrial detentions – including claims of drawn-out stretches in solitary – for those accused of nonviolent crimes connected to the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol breach.
"The Department of Justice and the Biden administration has probably been the most aggressive at punishing its political enemies – any Justice Department that I've ever seen," said J.D. Vance, an Ohio Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, a bestselling author, and a Marine veteran. "If you told me this would happen 10 years ago, I wouldn't have believed you.”
Vance drew a parallel between some Jan. 6 defendants “not accused of violence” and Scheller “sitting in prison because he spoke out on a politically controversial topic.”
"This is not American justice,” Vance said. “We're basically mistreating people because of their politics. We're using the power of the federal government to punish people for their politics. That's not American justice.
"Look, whatever your politics, I think people should be speaking out about this stuff, because it's totally antithetical to our system of equal justice under the law. You can't go after people because of their politics – but that's exactly what the Biden folks are doing."
Robert Capovilla – a defense attorney with the Georgia-based law firm Capovilla and Williams, which specializes in litigating cases connected to the Uniform Military Code of Justice – told Newsmax that Scheller’s critiques of both the Trump and Biden administrations may mean he doesn’t fit the classic definition of a “political prisoner,” however, that doesn’t mean authorities haven’t handled his case in a “very unusual” way.
"The tragedy here is this officer [did] not belong in pretrial confinement under the allegations, period – end of story," Capovilla said. "If you're asking me if there could be something going on here, my answer to that is: ‘Yes.’”
Capovilla’s legal partner, Mickey Williams, added, "Whoever advised that commander to throw him in jail, he got some bad advice."
Vance, who served four years in the Marines, noted "it's famously pretty hard to get thrown in the brig," a term used by the Navy and Marines to hold Marines for "serious crimes."
“Lt. Col. Scheller's chain of command wants to say you're not allowed to criticize the generals – that's one thing,” Vance said. “It's another thing to throw him in prison for speaking his mind, which is of course is what they've done. The punishment is way disproportionate to any crime he committed.
"I don't think he'd be in prison right now if he hadn't criticized the actions of the Biden administration.”
Gohmert, who led a group of dozens of Republicans calling for Scheller’s release, visited the veteran in the brig late last week and said that those manning the jail, if not others detained there, generally have a positive view of Scheller’s actions.
Gohmert noted that the deaths of 13 U.S. service members in an ISIS-K suicide bombing outside the Taliban-controlled Kabul airport in late August was difficult news for any American, and even more so for someone in Scheller’s position.
Williams did acknowledge that the military has a legitimate need to avoid “disruption of good order discipline.”
“If you have colonels who can't control this guy, and you have generals who can't control him, they're not left with very many other options,” Williams said. "What they're concerned about is other officers and other Marines suddenly doing the same thing and violating orders.”
But he said Alford could have chosen a different course of action with Scheller.
“’This guy won't stop talking, how are we going to stop it?’ And [Alford] had some [military lawyer] say, ‘Hey, you could just throw them in pretrial confinement.’ Is that the right answer? Probably not,”
Williams said, “I wouldn't have thrown him in jail.”
Vance says the military’s decisions in the Scheller case are not unlike the lengths to which Attorney General Merrick Garland’s DOJ has gone with those who have dissenting political opinions.
“It’s crazy to contrast the way that they're treating Lt. Col. Scheller, the way that they're treating nonviolent protesters from Jan. 6, with the way that they treated the Black Lives Matter rioters last summer,” Vance said.
“There's basically a two-tiered system of justice in this country right now. If you riot, loot, and destroy things in the name of the left-wing cause, nothing happens to you. But, if you speak up on behalf of a conservative cause, or something that might even be considered a conservative cause, they might throw you in jail.”
In that same vein, Vance took issue with Monday's announcement that Garland would mobilize the FBI and the DOJ to “investigate and prosecute” individuals for “violent threats against school officials and teachers.”
The news comes on the heels of a summer during which parents grew increasingly frustrated at school board meetings regarding an array of subjects, from COVID-19 mask mandates to the teaching of critical race theory.
“It looks like Merrick Garland is going to go after moms who are worried about critical race theory and treat them effectively as domestic terrorists in their own country,” Vance said. “It's just crazy.”
Meanwhile, Gohmert made it a point to note Scheller is the only one in the Biden administration being held accountable for actions surrounding the withdrawal disaster.
Gohmert said the military is seeking to “stick it to him,” noting Alford has refused to let the 17-year Marine simply resign honorably and quietly amid the political firestorm.
Said Gohmert, “That was not enough for his commanders.”
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