CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — A U.S. Marine Corps officer pleaded guilty at his court-martial on Thursday to violating military law in August and September when he publicly criticized American military leadership for the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
He is scheduled to be sentenced Friday morning.
“I did what I did because I thought it was in the best long-term interest of the Marine Corps,” Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller Jr. said in an unsworn statement to the judge, Col. Glen Hines. “Going forward I am still demanding accountability.”
Hines accepted Scheller’s guilty pleas and on Thursday afternoon listened to evidence as he considered how Scheller should be punished.
Lt. Col. Troy Campbell, a prosecutor, recommended Scheller be issued a letter of reprimand and ordered to forfeit $5,000 of pay per month for six months.
Campbell said that after Scheller started posting videos to social media of his frustration and anger over the events in Afghanistan, his leadership tried to stop him from sabotaging himself and his career.
“The command was trying to protect him. The command never quit on him,” Campbell said. But Scheller insisted on escalating the situation.
Defense lawyer Tim Parlatore asked Hines to consider the context and effects that two decades of war had on Scheller. He said the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan caused Scheller “deep pain.”
“This case represents more than Stu Scheller,” Parlatore said. “He showed the entire country the emotional roller coaster that a lot of vets are going through.”
Scheller pleaded guilty to contempt toward officials, disrespect toward superior commissioned officers, willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer, dereliction in the performance of duties, failure to obey order or regulation, and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.
As he spoke about that last charge, Scheller told Hines, “I believe my actions were not done in a gentlemanly manner” and he agreed he had engaged in what he described as “serious misbehavior.”
Scheller in August and September published videos on Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube in which he talked about the withdrawal and, later, discussed the military’s case against him.
The final departure of American forces from Afghanistan drew much criticism as the American-backed Afghan government swiftly fell to Taliban forces. Thousands of Afghans who feared for their freedom and lives rushed to the airport in Kabul to try to flee the country.
Thirteen American personnel — 11 Marines, an Army soldier from Fort Bragg and a Navy corpsman — were killed in a suicide bombing at the airport while processing Afghan nationals seeking to evacuate.
Scheller’s first witnesses were Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas. GOP Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina also testified toward the end of the day. In their testimonies, the members of congress talked about the circumstances and shortcomings of the Afghan withdrawal.
“Nobody has owned up. Nobody has taken accountability” for the situation in Afghanistan, Gohmert said.
“This is an honest guy,” and that should be considered during sentencing, he said.
Scheller, who spent nine days in confinement after he was charged, should not be locked up further, Gohmert said.
While Gohmert testified in person, Greene called in virtually.
Americans are outraged over the Afghanistan withdrawal, Greene said, and her offices received many calls about Scheller’s case.
“I’m amazed at his courage,” Greene said. “We need accountability… 13 military members were killed needlessly."
Americans were abandoned in Afghanistan, she said, adding “It’s a failure of this administration.”
Men who served with Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller, including in overseas warzones, spoke highly of him.
Retired Marine David Borden served with Scheller in Iraq, and was badly injured.
“Stu was one of the first individuals to come visit me at Walter Reed,” Borden said, referring to the prominent Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. It treated many personnel who were injured in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
“When I was in my darkest times, he was there,” Borden said.
Former Army National Guard member Christopher Ramsey recalled his time serving with Scheller in Afghanistan.
“He is probably one of the finest officers I’ve had the pleasure of serving with,” Ramsey said, describing Scheller as, “very level headed, decisive” and “a fantastic mentor.”
Even though Scheller cannot be forced out of the service by this court-martial, he has submitted his resignation from his commission. The Secretary of the Navy is to decide whether his separation from the service will be characterized as an honorable discharge or as a discharge under honorable conditions. The latter is also known as a “general discharge” and is a lesser discharge than an honorable discharge.
“The issuance of an Honorable Discharge is contingent upon proper military behavior and performance of duty,” according to government regulations, while, “The issuance of a discharge under honorable conditions is contingent upon military behavior and performance of duty which is not sufficiently meritorious to warrant an Honorable Discharge.”
Reporter Calvin Shomaker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on The Daily News: Marine officer who criticized Afghanistan withdrawal pleads guilty