This is part three of the untold story of the men from MARSOC Fox Company, and the leadership that failed them.

Although the comparison may seem odd at first, there are striking similarities between the MARSOC 7 case and another high-profile case that took place at the same time as the MARSOC court of inquiry (COI). That case involved the Duke University men’s lacrosse team. There is no comparison between Fox Company Marines and alleged rapists, but these two cases serve to highlight how two major, biased investigations of similar-age college students in 2006-2007 ended with completely different outcomes. As many will remember, the prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse case, Michael Nifong, withheld state’s evidence that exonerated the lacrosse players. When the nation became aware of this witch-hunt by Nifong, they were outraged that the government was not playing by the rules.

The Duke case also had obvious differences to the MARSOC case. The first is that, in place of Michael Nifong, the MARSOC case had Air Force Colonel Pat Pihana as the primary investigator, whose omission of testimonies, suppression of evidence, and tampering with evidence was very damning for Fred Galvin and his men, as they were falsely alleged by Pihana to have committed homicide and were subsequently kicked out of Afghanistan. Another difference was that the defendants in the Duke case were a group of very wealthy, privileged college athletes who sought the services of an exotic dancer to entertain their team. Again, there is no comparison in regards to Fox Company’s Marines, who almost to the man had enlisted right out of high school during a time of war to serve in the Marine Corps, and again volunteered for service in the infantry, then a third time volunteered for service in Force Recon and MARSOC, and had served on multiple combat deployments.

The Duke case’s mishandling of evidence by the lead investigator made headline news on every major channel and newspaper regardless of their leanings, whereas the MARSOC 7 received an official “gag order” preventing any communication with the media, and thus the control of information remained in the hands of the military—until now.

A biased investigation occurred in both cases, but the Duke case caught headlines and saved the students from going to jail when they were not guilty. The authorities came after Michael Nifong for making public statements that were “prejudicial to the administration of justice” and for engaging in “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.” These two statements were exactly what Major General Kearney and Colonel Pihana both did twice—in the ODA 374 case and in the MARSOC case—but their outcomes were completely different. Kearney ended up being promoted to lieutenant general as well as extending his stay in sunny Tampa, Florida for several more years, and was placed in a position controlling even more special operators’ lives as the deputy commanding general of SOCOM. Pihana ended up being rewarded with a prestigious “end of tour” award from Kearney, then he also extended his stay in sunny Tampa and followed Kearney to SOCOM, where he was again rewarded with a prestigious O-6 command assignment with the 18th Air Support Operations Group, even after mishandling both the ODA 374 and MARSOC investigations.

Colonel Pihana had four major areas of reckless impact on the investigation, which are backed up by his testimony from the COI. He obstructed justice, suppressed evidence, tampered with evidence, and was derelict of his duties as the investigator by not even asking the 66th MPs who were immediately on the scene for any evidence from their 4 March, 2007 follow-on actions in Bati Kot. So why did Kearney select Pihana twice in a row to conduct these extremely high-visibility Law of War allegation cases, when Kearney had Colonel Burkholder, USMC, on his staff in his own personal command deck? The question that should also be asked is, why are the standards of honor, ethics, and accountability higher in the civilian justice system than in the U.S. armed services? Most Americans would undoubtedly expect the standards to be higher in the military, but in this case, they certainly weren’t.

As covered in part two of this series, LTG Kearney spoke of how the Marines were not ready for “prime time,” yet he selected an officer (Pihana) to investigate capital offense cases despite his openly admitting to having no combat experience. Pihana was certainly not ready for prime time. To further validate the caliber of Marines who comprised Fox Company, Colonel Petronzio’s testimony from the COI stands in stark contrast to Kearney’s assessment of those men. Furthermore, Kearney himself had not seen combat actions firsthand since a very brief moment in Panama many years prior, while Petronzio had just returned from high-intensity combat in Iraq, and was preparing to go back for more in Afghanistan.

COI testimony from Colonel Petronzio that shows how poorly MSOC-F was supported by SOCCENT/CENTCOM.