Four years ago, Jason Brezler sent an urgent message to a fellow Marine in Afghanistan, warning him about a threat. The warning wasn't heeded, and two weeks later, three U.S. troops were dead.
In particular, the local police chief, Sarwar Jan, turned into a problem.
"Sarwar Jan, he was a threat to not only the Afghans but our own Marines," Brezler says.
The chief was maybe linked to the Taliban. He was also alleged to be a pedophile who preyed on local boys — something alarmingly common among Afghan warlords.
Recently there's been a debate about whether U.S. forces should tolerate Afghan allies who keep kids at their barracks. Back in 2010, there was no policy. Brezler couldn't fire Sarwar Jan, but he could kick him off the base.
"We put Sarwar Jan on the next helicopter. And, once he left, we could have probably had a parade the next day through the bazaar. The Afghans were absolutely elated," he says.
Brezler went home. In the summer of 2012 he was still in the Marine Reserves, and working as a Brooklyn firefighter. On the side he was getting a master's degree.
"I'm sitting at a conference table in Oklahoma, taking I believe a public budgeting class, and I received an email, and the title was 'SARWAR JAN IS BACK,' all caps, exclamation point, exclamation point," he says.
It was a forwarded request for information from a Marine in Helmand. Sarwar Jan was living on a U.S. base again. He'd brought a small group of underage Afghan boys to serve him there.
"My reaction was largely a visceral one. I was like, 'Are you freaking kidding me?' " he says.
Brezler searched his laptop — it was the same one he'd had with him in Helmand — and found the dossier on Sarwar Jan. He attached it, hitting "reply all" and then "send." That set off a chain of consequences, including one Brezler never intended, according to his lawyer, Mike Bowe.
"As soon as he sends it, the Marine on the other side says, 'This is marked classified,' " Bowe says. "So, at the first break during class, [Brezler] calls on his cellphone to his [commanding officer] and he says, 'Look, this is what just happened,' " says Bowe, "so he self-reports right away like he's supposed to do."