Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Scheller, a U.S. Marine officer, was relieved of duty and incarcerated by the USMC on the morning of September 27, 2021, after breaking a gag order by posting on social media.
Scheller first made headlines after posting a video on August 26th to his Facebook page following the ISIS K bombing at Kabul airport; which killed 13 U.S. service members and 170 Afghans. In the Facebook video, Scheller explained the professional and personal risks he was incurring by posting the video before admonishing the lack of accountability for senior military leadership for their handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal. Scheller explained he was willing to sacrifice his 17 year-long military career, which began in 2005 in the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, to hold his superiors responsible.
Major Jim Stenger, a spokesperson for The U.S. Marine Corps, announced the commander was relieved due to a “loss of trust and confidence in his ability to command.” After being relieved, he was issued a gag order and asked not to speak publicly. Following his violation of the gag order, he was sent to pre-trial confinement in the Regional Brig for Marine Corps Installations East aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.
Since Scheller’s initial video, he has received immense support as well as criticism from the military community. Some claim it was irresponsible and shameful to criticize his chain of command publicly; others applaud his audaciousness in reflecting upon a long-mismanaged war. Scheller’s story has even been picked up abroad, Chinese state media outlets claim his dismissal reveals “U.S. military leadership is unwilling…to admit or correct any of their strategic mistakes.”
Many are quick to ask, “What about Scheller’s free speech rights?” The U.S. military operates with a distinct criminal code, outlined primarily by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), in which typical First Amendment protections do not apply. Article 88 of the UCMJ dictates a criminal offense for a commissioned officer using contemptuous language against a government official, and Article 89 against a superior commissioned officer. Article 133 of UCMJ states any commissioned officer who is convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman shall be punished as a court-martial may direct. Legal grounds have also been set by the United States v. Howe 1967 precedent pertaining to military personnel criticizing war efforts. Whatever charges Scheller will face have yet to be publicized.