Opinion

Evidence in Marine special operations case stalled again by Pentagon’s censor

Fred Galvin, U.S. Marine retired, served in the Marine Corps for 26 years serving both as an enlisted Marine and as an officer in the Marine infantry, reconnaissance, force reconnaissance and Marine Special Operations.

Editor’s note: This is an op-ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Marine Corps Times editor Andrea Scott at ascott@militarytimes.com.

Senior Pentagon leaders have been involved in flagrant scandals for decades.

Despite several reform efforts, including the Freedom Of Information Act of 1967 and pressure from Congress to allow the public access to records of any federal agency, the Pentagon is repeatedly ignoring requests for unclassified information in order to protect senior military leaders from embarrassment.

An ongoing gross abuse of the FOIA by the Pentagon’s senior leadership is present in the denial of information release involving the 2007 coordinated ambush against a Marine Special Operation Task Force in Afghanistan, where I was serving as task force commander.

A manuscript for an upcoming book and movie provides substantiated, incontrovertible, documentary evidence that senior Pentagon leaders abused authorities by trampling on the legal rights of Marines who heroically fought through the complex ambush and won.

It also reveals the repeated efforts during the past 13 years involving multiple general officers to cover up the case through repeated false official statements to multiple members of Congress.

For those who are unfamiliar with this case: It involved a gunfight on a road in Afghanistan, how the military senior leaders obstructed justice by coercing witnesses under threats to deport their family members, suppressed multiple sworn testimonies and reports of incontrovertible exculpatory evidence, and several examples of senior officers violating their moral duty of a fair, impartial and unbiased system of justice.

The Pentagon’s constant nine years of stalling to release exculpatory FOIA information centered around a gun-battle and a courtroom trial that the press was prohibited from hearing the majority of the trial is essentially censor.

‘IT WOULD BE SHORT-LIVED’

It all goes back to the September 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. soil, which led then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to order each service branch increase its amount of special operations forces to combat terrorism. Each branch of the military complied except for the Marine Corps, which had resisted for 14 years. It was due to the belief that it was not in the Corps’ best interest to have an elite unit within an already elite service.

The Marines further procrastinated Rumsfeld’s order and finally submitted a delay tactic through a proposal in 2003, which designed a three-year proof of concept to see if the Marines’ elite force reconnaissance units could even perform at the level of the Green Berets, Rangers or SEALs, and gave the Corps’ the option to possibly later abandon the program after a new administration and secretary of defense following the 2004 election. After the proof of concept ended in 2006, Rumsfeld, who remained as the defense secretary, ordered the Corps to create Marine Special Operations Command, or MARSOC.

Rumsfeld personally attended the MARSOC activation ceremony and directed the Marine commandant, as well as commander of Special Operations Command to also attend, so they would be assured of Rumsfeld’s direction for the Marines’ role in special operations. Rumsfeld not only oversaw the consummation of the arranged marriage between the Special Operations Command and the Marine Corps Special Operations Command but set the date for the delivery of its first born Marine Special Operation Task Force to be delivered. Neither the Marine Corps nor Special Operations Command supported the Corps’ establishing an elite commando unit, so multiple roadblocks were created by senior military leaders from both sides to ensure the existence of this love child would be short-lived.

The first Marine Special Operations Task Force deployed to Afghanistan in early January 2007.

On March 4, 2007, a platoon of Marine commandos was hit by a suicide bomber, blocked in the kill zone by a vehicle obstructing the road, and ambushed by waves of jihadists on multiple fronts while being shot at by snipers.

The commandos acquitted themselves both on the battlefield and the following year in nearly a monthlong courtroom trial. Starting with the preliminary investigation the Pentagon made every effort to bury the details of what actually did and did not happen.

Only 20 minutes after the ambush against the Marine commandos, media reports began stating that the Marines killed innocent Afghan women, children and elderly. The Taliban-controlled village elders stated that the Marines were drunk, and had went house to house on a killing spree.

These salacious stories led to riots, and a strong public condemnation by then-Afghan President Hamid Karzai accompanied by his demand to the U.S. military to take swift action.

Five days following the ambush, the U.S. investigator arrived in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. During his first day he interviewed only 10 Marines and no Afghans, the conclusion that day from the Army general in charge was to order the entire Marine commando unit out of Afghanistan.

The Pentagon now had the perfect reason to prove to Rumsfeld that a Marine Special Operations Command was a failed strategy and their mission became to build the story to convict innocent Marines of mass murder instead of presenting evidence in a fair and impartial trial.

The Marines who would become the focus of the criminal trial were issued a punitive “protective order” (aka gag order) that prevented them from speaking to the media by threats of further charges.

The trial ended and four months later the Pentagon provided a media release to a single source at The Associated Press, confusing the case by not using legal terms of “innocent,” “guilty” or “dismissed,” but instead by stating that the “Marines acted appropriately” on allegations of mass homicide.

This unclear statement led countless media sources to report for eight years that the Marine commandos got away with mass murder of innocent Afghans.

DELAYED FOIA

On May 23, 2011, the late Congressman Walter B. Jones of North Carolina officially filed a FOIA request on my behalf to have the Naval Criminal Investigation Service’s interview records and courtroom transcripts declassified and released.

The Pentagon ignored Jones’ request for 11 months, until my attorney filed for action to in 2012 through the U.S. District Court. In April 2014, after further FOIA requests from multiple parties, the FOIA office provided its first response via email. Unfortunately, the FOIA officials decided to fight back by refusing records.

In July 2014, after the FOIA offices continued to resist any release of information my attorney initiated a second case in the federal court system. In September 2014, the FOIA office responded that it would finally comply and release documentation of the case. On Nov. 4, 2014, the FOIA office stated it would provide a “partial release” of information. For 18 months the FOIA office slowly provided its partial release.

In June 2017, my FOIA request was refined to a reduced request for only a single sentence to be released, to which after numerous inquiries the FOIA office responded in June 2020 the office was busy but still working on that single sentence.

On Oct. 8, 2019, my 300-page manuscript of the first Marine Special Operations Task Force’s formation, training, deployment, combat actions, abuse of authority by senior military leaders some of who directly participated in the interrogations of Marine witnesses, and the courtroom trial that the media was continuously excluded from the majority of the hearings, was sent to the Pentagon to comply with policies for security review.

The Pentagon provided a projection of two to three months for its review, after which its update was six months from acceptance to completion.

A Marine Corps Times inquiry into the Pentagon’s delay of the manuscript assisted the release of the manuscript by the Pentagon.

But the precept of the FOIA is for federal agencies to be transparent with the public and not to deny information because of potential embarrassment of senior leaders.

The Pentagon’s nine years of resistance to release of information through FOIA, including the past three years of bureaucratic slow roll for a single unclassified sentence of exculpatory evidence, the infringement on our first amendment’s right to free speech will continue without the public, elected officials and the media’s declaration to the Pentagon to release the the single sentence of exculpatory unclassified information which it has been suppressing.

Since retiring from the Marine Corps, Fred Galvin returned to Kansas where he founded a small business as well as a 100 percent to program charity for surviving Gold Star families and accepted the full exoneration of the Marine Special Operations Task Force he formerly commanded as his new mission.

In mid-July, following an ongoing nine-year battle with Pentagon’s FOIA offices and a separate nine months of delays for security screening, the Pentagon has finally released the manuscript revealing the first Marine Corps Special Operations Task Force experiences. Since July 2016 a long-term Hollywood movie producer combined with an acclaimed California writer have worked together to have this entire account finally revealed through both a book and feature film.

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