Jason Brezler tried to do the right thing. The Marine major warned his comrades in Afghanistan of a possible attack, but in his haste to do so, he sent a classified document from his personal email account.

Brezler’s warning was ignored. The attack occurred and three troops were killed. And Brezler, who told a member of Congress what happened, got kicked out of the Marines—retaliation, he said.

In a year where emails and mishandling of classified information have loomed so large, the case stands as an example of misapplied justice.

On Tuesday, a pro bono team from Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman helped balance the scale, scoring a win on Brezler’s behalf in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, which reversed and remanded the case.

“This is a stunning rebuke of the fundamentally unjust proceedings to which this decorated Marine was subjected for over three years,” said Kasowitz partner Michael Bowe, whose wife is also a Marine.

It’s a tragic story from beginning to end.

It began in 2009, when Brezler was stationed in Afghanistan. He helped expel a man named Sarwar Jan as the police chief of the village Now Zad. The reason, according to the complaint: Jan and his minions “were extorting Now Zad residents, kidnapping and keeping Afghan boys as sex slaves, trafficking in narcotics, and providing arms, munitions, and Afghan police uniforms to the Taliban to facilitate insider attacks on Marine and other coalition forces.”

After the police chief was banished, Brezler helped prepare a dossier on him “because of the significant threat he posed.”

Two years later, Jan was somehow back as the new chief of the Afghan police unit stationed at Forward Operating Base Delhi, Afghanistan. Alarmed, one of the Marines with whom Brezler had worked sent him an urgent request in July 2012 to forward the dossier.

Brezler was no longer in Afghanistan—he was in Oklahoma, in graduate school. He immediately sent the document—he still had it on his computer—and warned that Jan was an urgent danger to the base. 

But the Marine commanders “inexplicably took no steps in response to Major Brezler’s warning after Jan arrived,” Bowe wrote in the complaint, which claimed the disciplinary proceedings against Brezler violated the Administrative Procedure Act.

Two weeks after Brezler sent the dossier, according to U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco, “a child sex slave” kept by Jan took an unsecured rifle, murdered three Marines on the base and seriously wounded a fourth.

It’s hard not to conclude that there was one enormous error—failing to act on Brezler’s warning that Jan and his entourage posed a danger—and one small error: the dossier that Brezler sent via his personal email account—the only way he had to send information—was classified.

Almost immediately after sending it, Brezler realized his mistake and reported the “spillage” to his commanding officer.

There was an inquiry. The initial finding a few weeks later: “the probability of further compromise is remote and the threat to national security is minimal.”

But in March 2013, Brezler received an adverse “fitness report,” when he was relieved of command “due to loss of trust and confidence.” A Board of Inquiry followed, which recommended that Brezler be discharged from the Marines.

Bowe sees the adverse actions against his client as retaliation. According to the complaint, the Marines cracked down on Brezler “in the wake of increasing congressional and journalistic inquiries about the August 2012 shooting,” Bowe wrote. “The complete information lockdown the Marine Corps imposed after these murders is shocking …The administrative and disciplinary steps taken against Major Brezler over the course of the last two years coincide precisely with Congressional inquiries concerning these murders.”

Brezler was being punished for speaking to Rep. Peter King (D-N.Y.) Bowe argues, and drawing attention to how “Marine commanders failed to take adequate steps to protect their Marines from that known threat their commanders placed in their very midst.”
In reversing and remanding the Board of Inquiry proceedings, Bianco did not rule on the merits of the allegations. Instead, he found that the Marines (which are overseen by the Department of the Navy) withheld relevant information and documents from Brezler.

“The court concludes that the Navy violated its own discovery rule by failing to provide Major Brezler, prior to his [Board of Inquiry] hearing or at any stage during the administrative review process, with all documents relevant to his retaliation claims,” he wrote. “Those materials would have been critical to plaintiff’s ability to fully and fairly explore whether, among other things, the Navy convened the [Board of Inquiry] because of a protected communication he made to Congressman King.”

Contact Jenna Greene at jgreene@alm.com. On Twitter @jgreenejenna.