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Legal Win For Marine Who Used Classified Information In An Email Warning

Maj. Jason Brezler holds a meeting with local governors in 2010 in Afghanistan's Helmand province.
Monique Jaques
Getty Images
Maj. Jason Brezler holds a meeting with local governors in 2010 in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

A federal judge has overturned a military panel's decision to force a Marine out of service for using his Yahoo account to send an email that included classified information warning his fellow Marines about a corrupt Afghan official.

That warning was not taken seriously, as NPR's Quil Lawrence told our Newscast unit, and three Marines were killed shortly after. Later, "after some negative news coverage, the Marine Corps decided to force Jason Brezler out of the service for mishandling classified data."

Now, after a three-year legal fight, the district judge's order found that the military Board of Inquiry that pushed Brezler out of the Corps did not follow its own regulations. The decision was then overturned.

This case is rooted in Brezler's claim that the Corps initiated the proceedings against him in retaliation for speaking about the issue with U.S. Rep. Peter King, who then talked to the media. As Quil reported, "that's when the U.S. Marine Corps got serious — about investigating Jason Brezler."

The judge wrote in his order that "the Navy violated its own discovery rule by failing to provide Major Brezler, prior to his [Board of Inquiry] hearing or at any stage during the administrative review process, with all documents relevant to his retaliation claims."

The case is now remanded to the Department of the Navy, and Brezler is set to receive a new hearing.

In September, Quil spoke with Brezler about the Afghan official that he warned his fellow Marines about:

"In 2010 he was at a remote base in Helmand province. The mission was to support the local Afghan population against the Taliban. To do that, Brezler found, he also had to help them against corrupt officials of their own government.

" 'The police in many cases was a destabilizing force — and driving more folks into the arms of the Taliban,' Brezler says.

"In particular, the local police chief, Sarwar Jan, turned into a problem.

" 'Sarwar Jan, he was a threat to not only the Afghans but our own Marines,' Brezler says.

"The chief was maybe linked to the Taliban. He was also alleged to be a pedophile who preyed on local boys — something alarmingly common among Afghan warlords."

Brezler was able to kick Sarwar Jan off the base. Two years later, he was back in the States and still in the Marine reserves, working on a master's degree — when he heard Sarwar Jan had returned.

"I'm sitting at a conference table in Oklahoma, taking I believe a public budgeting class, and I received an email, and the title was 'SARWAR JAN IS BACK,' all caps, exclamation point, exclamation point," he told Quil.

"It was a forwarded request for information from a Marine in Helmand. Sarwar Jan was living on a U.S. base again," Quil reported. "Brezler searched his laptop — it was the same one he'd had with him in Helmand — and found the dossier on Sarwar Jan. He attached it, hitting 'reply all' and then 'send.' "

But the dossier was marked classified. The information went unheeded, Quil reported, and "just 17 days after Brezler's warning, one of Sarwar Jan's underage servants grabbed an assault rifle and killed three unarmed Marines at the base gymnasium in Helmand."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy
Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.