Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a statement Monday supporting Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos following allegations that Amos told subordinates he wanted those involved in the urination video case to be "crushed" at general courts martial.
"The secretary does have full confidence in the job that Gen. Amos is doing," said George Little, the chief Pentagon spokesman. Little would not comment on allegations by defense lawyers that Amos asserted "undue command influence" in the cases that arose from the video showing four Marines urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban.
Lawyers for Capt. James Clement, the only officer charged in the urination case, alleged in court papers filed last week that Amos tried to influence Marine Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the original convening authority who would decide whether cases went to a court martial.
The court papers, first disclosed by the Marine Corps Times, included a sworn statement from Waldhauser, who was then commander of Marines in the U.S. Central Command, on a 2011 meeting with Amos.
"I do not necessarily remember the exact words or sequence of what was said, but the [commandant] did make a comment to the effect that the Marines involved needed to be ‘crushed,'" Waldhauser said in the statement. "The CMC went on to say that he wanted these Marines to be discharged from the Marine Corps when this was all over," Waldhauser said.
Amos later replaced Waldhauser as the convening authority for the urination video cases with Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, head of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command.
In a statement, Col. Sean Gibson, a spokesman for the Marine Combat Development Command, confirmed that Amos met with Waldhauser in February 2012 to discuss the urination video cases.
"During the course of that conversation, the CMC (Amos) made some comments to Lt. Gen. Waldhauser that Gen. Amos felt could be perceived as interfering with Lt. Gen. Waldhauser’s independent and unfettered discretion to take actions in those cases," the statement said.
"The Commandant immediately realized that he had compromised the situation and took immediate action to ensure that the investigation and cases were given to an appropriate new convening authority who could exercise independent and unfettered discretion to take action in those cases," the statement said.
"There was never any intent to manipulate the courts martial system to undermine the rights of any Marine involved," the statement said.
Clement has been charged with "dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman for failing to stop the misconduct of junior Marines." He is expected to go on trial in November.
Six enlisted Marines have previously accepted non-judicial punishment or faced a special court martial on charges involving the video of scout snipers from the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban in southwestern Afghanistan's Helmand province in July 2011. Clement was then the executive officer of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion.
This is the second recent occurrence for undue command influence to make national headlines. Comments made by President Obama in May regarding sexual assault played into the ruling of a military sexual assault case in Hawaii.
A military judge in Hawaii last month ruled that because of remarks made by President Obama at a May 7 news conference, defendants in two separate sex assault cases could not be punitively discharged if they were convicted.
At the news conference, Obama said of sex assault cases that "the bottom line is I have no tolerance for this. I expect consequences."
"So I don't just want more speeches or awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way," Obama said. "If we find out somebody's engaging in this, they've got to be held accountable -- prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period."
It is unclear what effect the alleged comments made by Amos to Waldhauser could have on the Clement's case.