Since its reincarnation in 2006, MARSOC Raiders have been an invaluable asset to the Marine Corps and USSOCOM with countless examples of bravery and excellence on the battlefield. It comes as a surprise to many that MARSOC regularly balks at the chance to lean into the truth and provide complete transparency when asked by the media about high-profile cases involving their warriors. Isn’t that what Americans and Raiders alike should expect from an organization with such a storied history of brotherhood and faithfulness?
The current Commanding General (CG) of MARSOC officially assumed command on June 26, 2020. As a result, the new CG assumed the role of convening authority for the MARSOC 3 case involving three Marine Raiders falsely accused of manslaughter for what video proves to be self-defense.
For those unfamiliar with the MARSOC 3 case, in Erbil, Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) on New Year’s Eve, 2018, with permission to leave base, the three decorated Marine Raiders were assaulted by a drunken civilian contractor, Rick Rodriguez, after he instigated a verbal confrontation. Video footage shows Rodriguez, a retired Green Beret, acting so aggressively that he was thrown out of the establishment. Footage also shows that he decided to wait outside in the path of the MARSOC 3 as they later exited and were walking to their vehicle. After Rodriguez had thrown his third punch, one of the Raiders stepped in to defend his fellow Raider from receiving additional harm and knocked Rodriguez out with one punch. Rodriguez’s group of friends either left or stood around not knowing what to do. The three Raiders brought the contractor back to base for observation.
Chief Eric Gilmet watched over Rodriguez through the night and into the morning. After having been relieved early that morning by a base contractor, Gilmet was called back to find that Rodriguez was now unresponsive. Rodriguez was then transferred to a hospital in Germany where he died four days later of complications arising from his intoxicated state and from having choked on his own vomit.
During the subsequent Article 32 hearing, video evidence and testimony from the lead investigator confirmed that Rodriguez was the aggressor and sole instigator in the incident and that the Marines did not use excessive force, nor did they attempt to obstruct justice. Despite that evidence, MARSOC leaders have contradicted their own core beliefs by neglecting to support the accused and their families, punishing the accused by taking away pay, and suspending their security clearances. Furthermore, by sending the accused to a general court-martial — which carries the most severe punishment — despite video evidence that shows self-defense, and by inexplicably including charges that were found to have no grounds during the Article 32 process.
After media questions were submitted to the MARSOC Communication Strategy & Operations (CommStrat) office several weeks prior to the summer change of command, they provided initial responses stating that they would answer questions as soon as the new commander settled in. As weeks and months passed, the command would occasionally respond to follow-up requests for status updates by indicating that they were working on it — but the answers never came.
While there are dozens of other emails spanning nearly five months where the command promised answers, the emails shown below highlight how from early July through August the command never kept their word in spite of them eventually admitting that they “actually sat down with the boss today”.
Requests submitted to MARSOC after the August 18 email (shown above) were initially ignored but then took an interesting change in tone. The command suddenly indicated that they didn’t have answers to my questions despite previously saying they would send them by the “end of the week”.
In October, when pressed on what happened to the answers the command supposedly had in August, it was conveyed through a conversation with a command representative that the current Commanding General now seems to have an aversion to answering questions about the MARSOC 3 case because of the risk of perceived negative media coverage.
With three court martial trial dates looming for their own Raiders, it seems logical that MARSOC and the Commanding General would want to have their statements on the record in lieu of the perceived negative media coverage. It must be noted that news articles regarding the case are published using available information. If MARSOC is unhappy with the coverage of the case, it has an opportunity to go on record by answering questions that were submitted many months ago.
Here is the full list of questions submitted:
What are you most looking forward to accomplishing as the commander of MARSOC? What are your priorities?
What do you anticipate being your biggest challenge with carrying MARSOC forward?
Regarding COVID-19, how is MARSOC going to change/adapt their operational tempo/requirements? What will you implement to keep your Raiders safe?
As convening authority, do you intend to take a fresh look at the “MARSOC 3” case involving GySgt Draher, GySgt Negron, and Chief Gilmet?
Can you confirm whether you have already watched any of the video footage from the associated incident? If not, do you intend to watch all of the footage?
Regarding the MARSOC 3 case, the preliminary hearing officer (PHO), Colonel Hines, who presided over the Article 32 hearing made the recommendation to dismiss the obstruction of justice charge after having reviewed all evidence. What are your thoughts about the SJA (who was not present at Article 32) still recommending to MajGen Yoo that there was enough evidence to support the charge in spite of Colonel Hines’ finding that there was “no probable cause”?
Are you concerned that by ignoring the vastly more experienced Colonel Hines’ recommendation, it appears that the MARSOC SJA was attempting to “stack the deck” against the accused instead of supporting them?
Can you comment on why the MARSOC 3 case is not a joint trial but rather three different court martial trials based on MajGen Yoo’s recommendation? Doing so will cost the government three times the amount of money and resources that a single trial would require. The defense team has been requesting a joint trial, but so far it keeps getting denied.
Also, with COVID-19 spiking all around the country, does it make sense to keep making the same witnesses and legal teams travel to appear for each court martial during the middle of this global pandemic instead of allowing them to appear for a single trial?
MARSOC stated months ago that their answers to questions about the case were completed and forthcoming — yet they have seemingly opted for the Information Operations strategy to not answer questions about the case and not honor their word. Americans should expect more from such an incredible warfighting organization with a storied history of winning battles and fighting for freedom.
The Marine Corps and MARSOC still has time to do the right thing and answer questions that the American public deserves to know.