‘Light’ Sentence for Marine Officer Critical of Botched Afghan Retreat

Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller walked into his sentencing hearing in a Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, courtroom to hear his sentence. He appeared relaxed and said, “I feel good,” when asked.

“We’ll see what they do,” he added before striding into the courtroom.

The Marine already had been fired, followed with charges of six violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice after he posted a series of social media posts that went viral.

The posts criticized senior leaders over the botched withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

Marine Corps. Judge Col. Glen Hines decided the case. He sharply criticized the Corps’ handling of the case and rejecting the prosecution’s requested punishment.

The judge said the command’s pretrial confinement order raised the “specter of unlawful command influence” along with alleged leaks to the press.

The day prior, Lt. Col. Scheller had pleaded guilty to all charges against him in a plea deal, ending a saga that began when he posted on social media on Aug. 26.

In the posts, Scheller demanded accountability from senior leaders for perceived failures in the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Scheller continued to make videos and social media posts against the recommendations and then orders from his chain of command, which led to him getting locked in the brig. After the trial, he was convicted of violating six articles.

Light sentence

Judge Hines directed a forfeiture of $5,000 pay for one month instead of the $5,000 per month for six months and a letter of reprimand prosecutors requested.

When directing the one-month pay forfeiture, the judge would have taken two months’ pay but credited Scheller for his nine days in the brig. Due to a pretrial agreement, the forfeiture of income was the only aspect the judge had power over.

Under the plea agreement, Scheller must resign his commission and receive an honorable discharge or general under honorable conditions once Navy Secretary Carlos del Toro signs off on the character of discharge.

Scheller’s attorney, Tim Parlatore, said the decision by Judge Hines sends a message. “When senior leaders [or] certain people decide to take certain actions like leaking medical records, like putting somebody in pretrial confinement [when there is] no risk of flight, there should be consequences.”

With his resignation, Scheller forfeits his retirement. However, more than $2.5 million has been raised through former Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s Pipe Hitter Foundation.

According to the foundation’s website, the fund can be used for emergency relief funds, legal defense, possible loss of military retirement and benefits, relocation expenses and transition out of the military, and family support for his wife and three children.

Judge Hines did not absolve Scheller of guilt with his ruling, singling out his violation of Article 88 for contempt of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Article 88 criminalizes “contemptuous words” against certain leaders. Hines said it is “corrosive” and “serious” and can “degrade public trust in civilian and military authorities.

According to Judge Hines, Scheller also deserves blame for the event playing out in public, resulting in a media frenzy. However, he said that the Corps’ proposed punishment of Scheller’s errors paled compared to the mitigating factors.