After a daylong hearing, Lt. Col. Stu Scheller has been found guilty of all six charges stemming from his criticism on social media of senior leaders over the Afghanistan withdrawal.
On Aug. 26, Scheller posted a viral video of himself in uniform demanding accountability from senior military leaders following a suicide bombing that killed 13 U.S. troops in Afghanistan that same day. After that, the Marine officer made several more videos, wrote more than a dozen posts, and served nine days in the brig. This special court-martial is the end result of his flurry of social media activity.
In all, prosecutors charged that Scheller discredited himself as an officer or disrespected other officers and officials 27 times through posts and remarks public and private.
The day began with Scheller standing before the judge in his court-martial, Col. Glen Hines, and pleading guilty to charges that included contempt toward officials, disrespect toward superior officers, and dereliction in the performance of duties. The plea was part of an agreement that Scheller's lawyers reached with the Marine Corps that limits his punishment to no more than a letter of reprimand and a seizure of two-thirds of his pay for up to 12 months.
Given Scheller's rank and 17 years of service, the latter would cost Scheller tens of thousands of dollars.
"I did what I did because I thought it was in the best long-term interest of the Marine Corps," Scheller said in his testimony. "I have always wanted to make the Marine Corps better."
Most of the morning was spent going over each charge to assure both prosecutors and the judge that Scheller was not only guilty but believed that he was guilty of each charge -- a necessity under military justice.
Since many of the charges stemmed from posts and comments made on social media, Scheller spent much of his time confirming that he was aware the posts were not private, were intentionally disrespectful, and were not forced.
Scheller also testified that he willfully disobeyed an order -- given to him Sept. 17 after his fourth video and several written posts -- to stop making further social media posts.
The Marine admitted that "by posting about what I perceived to be my superior's incompetence" he "adversely affected good order and discipline."
After Hines accepted both Scheller's guilty plea and the deal both sides agreed to, the defense called a host of character witnesses. They included four former Marines who had previously served with Scheller and described him as an attentive, engaged and caring leader.
However, the defense also called as witnesses Reps. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. Both representatives argued that Scheller was a victim of a two-tiered judicial system that is more interested in going after him than senior leaders such as Gen. Mark Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and President Joe Biden. Greene's testimony, which prompted several objections from the prosecution for being irrelevant, also called for Biden's impeachment and accused the U.S. military of "war crimes" over the deadly drone strike that killed 10 in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 29.
All of the arguments in the trial have now finished, and Hines has adjourned court until Friday morning, when he is expected to announce Scheller's sentence.
-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.