Marine Officer in Brig Seeks Honorable Discharge Deal After Blasting Leaders Over Afghanistan

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The now-jailed Lt. Col. Stu Scheller -- the Marine officer who rose to fame for a viral video demanding accountability from military leaders for the failures in Afghanistan -- is hoping to strike a legal deal to avoid trial and leave the service with an honorable discharge. 

“Stu's request is real simple: He's willing to go in there and say ‘guilty’ to whatever they want … all he wants is to be able to leave honorably,” a person familiar with the matter told Military.com. 

Marine Corps officials have said there are no specific charges "preferred" or initiated against Scheller, but a spokesman for the service, Sam Stephenson, confirmed he is currently in pre-trial confinement while awaiting an Article 32 preliminary hearing. 

That upcoming but yet-unscheduled hearing will consider whether charges of contempt toward officials, willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer, failure to obey lawful general orders or conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman should be recommended to his commander for action, Marine officials said. 

According to the source, Scheller and his supporters are hoping for a deal prior to his Initial Review Officer (IRO) hearing -- a hearing that must be held within seven days of being sent to the brig for pre-trial confinement. That is likely to occur next week.

Eddie Gallagher, the now-retired Navy SEAL who was found not guilty after his former colleagues accused him of war crimes during a tumultuous deployment to Iraq in 2017, is one of Scheller’s supporters. His nonprofit, The Pipe Hitter Foundation, has been raising money and awareness for Scheller since last week. 

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In a statement posted on Gallagher’s Instagram account, the foundation said that Scheller “was willing to continue his time in the brig in order to provide peace of mind to the command while allowing negotiations to secure an honorable departure.” 

The Marine Corps’ reason for jailing Scheller is they deem him a flight risk, according to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. 

Scheller’s original video, which came days after the deaths of 13 servicemembers in Kabul during the Afghanistan evacuation, called for ownership and accountability from “senior leaders” in the military for the failed war. He appeared in the video wearing his uniform and responded directly to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger's letter to troops and veterans asking whether the nearly 20-year-long war in Afghanistan was worth it.

Political speech is strictly regulated in the military, and public criticism of leadership can cost officers their careers -- especially when offered outside of formal or scholarly venues. Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice forbids officers from using “contemptuous words” against their civilian leaders. 

In May, a Space Force commander was fired from his post for comments made during a podcast promoting his new book, in which he claims Marxist ideologies are becoming prevalent in the U.S. military. 

Like Gallagher, Scheller’s story has found sympathy from Republican members of Congress, 21 of whom wrote a letter to the Marine Corps commandant asking for his release. The letter argues that his brig sentence “appears to be simply for messaging, retribution, and convenience.” 

The Marines have not publicly provided specifics about what landed Scheller in legal trouble. The source said it relates to either his now-viral videos or an order given to Scheller to stop making posts on social media. 

Scheller alluded to such an order in a Facebook post made on Sept. 25 when he quoted from what appeared to be language from such an order. “Effective immediately upon your receipt below, you are hereby ordered to refrain from posting any and all material, in any form without exception, to any social media,” Scheller’s post said. 

The post ended with, “Col. Emmel please have the MPs waiting for me at 0800 on Monday. I’m ready for jail.” 

The source familiar with negotiations argued that such a broad and blanket order is likely not legal. “His real crime is saying what was on everybody's mind and embarrassing the senior leadership,” the source said. 

When contacted for comment on the reasons for Scheller’s incarceration, a spokesman for the Marine Corps declined to comment. 

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin. 

Related: Marine Officer Who Blasted Leaders over Afghanistan Withdrawal Is in the Brig 

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