Accusations against generals cast shadow over US army

 

Washington

The accusations leveled against three Army generals over the past six months are as varied as they are striking, the highest-profile of a growing number of allegations of wrongdoing by senior military officials.

A one-star general was flown home from Afghanistan this spring to face criminal charges, including sexual assault. A four-star general formerly in charge of the increasingly vital Africa command was accused of financial mismanagement, accepting inappropriate gifts and assigning staff personal tasks.

And a three-star general who oversees the U.S. Missile Defense Agency was described in an inspector general report as an abrasive and verbally abusive boss.

The investigations have become an embarrassment for the Army, raising questions about how thoroughly the military has screened senior leaders before putting them in crucial assignments.

The Defense Department's inspector general reviewed 38 cases of alleged wrongdoing by senior officials in 2011, and substantiated the accusations in nearly 40 percent of the them, up from 21 percent in 2007. The total caseload this year is on track to exceed last year's.

"It's always concerning when senior leaders have issues, because we have very specific faith in senior leaders," Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, said in a recent interview. Odierno said all such cases are taken seriously, but argued that "we can't allow a few to detract from the honorable service of many."

The investigation into Gen. William E. Ward, the former chief of Africa Command, is being closely watched at the Pentagon, where rank-and-file officers wonder aloud whether senior leaders will be reticent to punish one of their own.

A June 26 report, compiled after investigators pored through a trove of e-mails and expense reports, portrays a general using taxpayer funds to support a high-rolling lifestyle.

The inspector general concluded that Ward used government funds to pay for personal travel expenses; assigned staff to run errands for him and his wife; and accepted meals and Broadway tickets from a defense contractor, in violation of Pentagon rules. The inspector general's report says he wasted and misused tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars. For example, he billed the government $129,000 for an 11-day trip to Atlanta with a team of 13 people, even though he only conducted business during three of the days, the inspector general found.

On Feb. 14 he sent the following e-mail to an aide: "Might you be able to stop by a florist and pick up a small bouquet of spring flowers for me? Not extravagant at all — just a small not very expensive bouquet." The aide offered to get it and asked where the general would like the flowers delivered. Ward responded: "Can you have in the limo pls — trunk. Tnx"

Ward rejected several of the accusations of wrongdoing in a written response to the inspector general's findings, arguing, for instance, that many of the expenses in question were legitimate. The general declined a request for comment made through the Army's public affairs office.

The inspector general's conclusions on Ward were released two months before the agency issued a report documenting allegations that Lt. Gen. Patrick J O'Reilly created a toxic atmosphere at the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) by berating staff members. Quoting a witness, the inspector general's report described his style as "management by blowtorch and pliers."

Staffers at the MDA, the agency tasked with keeping the United States safe from missile attacks, described a culture of fear and low morale, in one case citing as an example a senior staff meeting during which O'Reilly called subordinates "a bunch of goddamned idiots," according to the report.

The report says O'Reilly disputed the characterizations, saying that some employees were unaccustomed to "having their work questioned when it included faulty logic, unsupported conclusions or other deficiencies." The report says that the general maintains that he "never insulted or verbally abused anyone." O'Reilly remains in charge of the agency, although the Senate is set to vote on a nominee to be his successor. O'Reilly also did not respond to a request for comment made through an Army spokesman.

The case that came to light most recently involved the criminal investigation against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, who was removed from his job as the deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division in May and flown home from Afghanistan.

Although the military has released few details about the investigation, officials at Fort Bragg, N.C., where the 82nd is based, released a summary of the criminal charges filed against him last month. They include forcible sodomy, wrongful sexual conduct, engaging in inappropriate relationships, misusing a government charge card and possessing alcohol and pornography while deployed.

Sinclair will appear before the military equivalent of a grand jury Nov. 5 to establish whether there is sufficient evidence for a court-martial. Ben Abel, a spokesman at Fort Bragg, said Sinclair's defense team declined a request for comment.

Garrison, the deputy inspector general, said it is unclear whether the increase in cases suggests that more senior leaders are engaging in inappropriate behavior.

"I would like to say people are more vigilant than they were in the past," she said. "Folks are looking at the IG system as something that has teeth."

The spike in cases has prompted the inspector general's office to create nine new positions during the past two years to augment its team of investigators reviewing charges of misconduct, spokeswoman Bridget Serchak said. The office will soon have 26 investigators.

Senior Army leaders are expected to make their recommendation on Ward's case and O'Reilly's to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta in the coming days. Ward could be forced to pay back money and retire at a reduced rank.

"This is not a good-old-boy's club," Odierno said this week during a news conference at an Army convention in Washington. "When you do something wrong you will be held accountable."

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