(Brig Gen. Jeff Sinclair as he arrives to the Fort Bragg courthouse, for his sentencing hearing, Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in Fort Bragg, N.C. Sinclair, who was accused of sexually assaulting a subordinate, plead guilty to lesser charges in a plea deal reached with government prosecutors.)
Disgraced Army general, Jeffrey A. Sinclair, gets $20,000 fine, no jail time.
(FORT BRAGG, NC – MARCH 17: Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair leaves the Fort Bragg Courthouse after sexual assault charges against him were dropped after he plead to lesser charges March 17, 2014 in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Sinclair, a former deputy commander with the 82nd Airborne Division, has admitted to an extramarital affair with a junior officer. “Unlawful command influence” caused a delay in the trial last week.) (Photo by Davis Turner/Getty Images)
Admiral Thad W. Allen, Commandant of the Coast Guard, speaking at the Academy on 8 September 2006 did not mention the Webster Smith Case. But, talking with reporters afterward, Allen said THE PROCESS used to deal with the issue worked as it should.
Apparently, Commandant Allen did not know that the System was stalled. He did not seem to be aware that his fellow Admiral, the Superintendent, was stonewalling the System.
To his visible relief, however, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair was spared a jail sentence. The decorated combat veteran hugged his lawyers and friends after his sentence was imposed by Col. James Pohl, the military judge who oversaw his court-martial at Fort Bragg, N.C.
“The system worked. I’ve always been proud of my Army,” Sinclair told reporters. “All I want to do now is go north and hug my kids and wife.”
The big question is “for whom’? For whom did the System work? It works a lot better for some than for others.
(Senator Kirsten Gilllibrand, D-N.Y.)
Tinkering at the edges, they argue, won’t produce the seismic shift needed to send the message that sexist attitudes and behaviors will no longer be tolerated. Victims need to be confident that if they report a crime their allegations won’t be discounted and they won’t face retaliation.
For two years, Sinclair’s court-martial had made him the public face of the military’s struggle to prevent and police sexual misconduct in the ranks. He was only the third Army general to face court-martial in 60 years, a measure that critics called emblematic of the military’s reluctance to hold senior commanders accountable for all kinds of wrongdoing.
Although Sinclair was pleased with the outcome, his chief accuser and some advocacy groups for sex-crime victims expressed deep disappointment. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) called the sentence “a mockery of military justice” and a “laughable punishment.”
Sinclair was originally charged with crimes that could have landed him in prison for life.
His accuser, a much younger female captain who served on his staffs in Iraq and Afghanistan, reported in March 2012 that she had been the married general’s lover for three years. She also said that he had sexually assaulted her on two occasions and once threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about the affair.
The Army prosecuted Sinclair for those offenses for nearly two years, but suddenly dropped the charges this month and cut a plea deal with the general after prosecutors admitted they had doubts about the reliability of the general’s mistress. Their hand was also forced after the judge ruled that there was evidence the Army had allowed politics and external considerations to influence its handling of the case.
In the end, Sinclair pleaded guilty to adultery, maltreatment of his accuser and two other improper relationships. He also admitted to making derogatory comments about women and, when challenged by his staff, replying: “I’m a general, I’ll say whatever the [expletive] I want.”
The accuser’s attorney, Jamie Barnett, a retired Navy rear admiral, said she was “obviously devastated” that Sinclair’s sentence wasn’t more severe.
“It’s a terrible outcome, and by failing to render justice today, the Army’s going to face the reality that this could happen again,” said Barnett, now a lawyer in private practice. “It’s really beyond disappointing. It’s a travesty for the Army and military justice in general.”
Coincidentally, Sinclair was sentenced on the same day that another high-profile sexual assault prosecution in the military collapsed.
In that case, a military judge at the Washington Navy Yard found a former Navy football player not guilty of sexually assaulting a female classmate at an April 2012 party. The Navy had originally charged two other midshipmen in the same incident but later cleared both as the case slowly crumbled.
In the past, military leaders have been criticized for not taking sex abuse allegations seriously and for mistreating victims. But in the courts-martial that culminated Thursday, the evidence of sexual assault rested largely on the testimony of the accusers, both of whom struggled to give a consistent and clear account.
Advocacy groups for sexual-assault victims were quick to seize on the outcomes as another sign that the military justice system is ill-equipped to handle such cases.
Nancy Parrish, the president of Protect our Defenders, said the results would discourage other members of the military from coming forward to report sex crimes.
“The military’s promises of ‘zero tolerance’ for sexual offenses continues to ring hollow as yet another high ranking official is let off the hook,” she said of the Sinclair case. “It has been long known within the military that General Sinclair conducted himself in outrageous and inappropriate, even unlawful ways. His behavior was not addressed until this victim came forward.”
Sinclair’s attorney, Richard Scheff, retorted that people who thought the general got away with a light sentence were ignoring the facts. “Critics of this ruling who weren’t in court and haven’t seen the evidence have no idea what they’re talking about.”
Sinclair admitted the affair but vigorously denied assaulting or threatening the woman. His lawyers portrayed her as a jealous mistress who spoke out after she read suggestive e-mails he had sent to other women, and because he refused to divorce his wife.
He could be punished further financially. His attorneys have said they expect he will have to retire from the Army at a lower rank, which would diminish his pension benefits.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, declined to comment on Sinclair’s sentence. But he acknowledged that the military needed to do more to deter and prosecute sex crimes.
“We know we need to get better. We know that there are changes that need to continue to be made,” Kirby told reporters. “Our focus is on making sure victims have the confidence to report and that those who are proven guilty of a crime are held accountable.”
(By. Ernesto Londoño contributed.)
APPENDIX I. Background on the handling of this case.
FORT BRAGG, N.C. — It was an illicit and volatile love affair that spanned two war zones and four countries. The married general couldn’t stay away from a captain on his staff. She fell hard for her boss and called him “Poppa Panda Sexy Pants.” The three-year entanglement ended disastrously for both, at a time that could not be worse for the Army.
All the raw and sordid details are spilling out in an austere military courthouse here, where the Army is girding — for only the third time in half a century — to court-martial one of its generals.
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, an Army Ranger and paratrooper, stands accused of forcible sodomy, adultery and other charges that could land him in prison. Prosecutors say he abused his command authority by sleeping with a subordinate officer, a taboo in the armed forces and a violation of military law.
They charge that the relationship turned violent on two occasions, when he allegedly forced her to perform oral sex.
In addition, Sinclair faces charges that he had inappropriate communications with three other female officers.
Sinclair has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Besides the rare spectacle of a general in the dock, however, the case poses a critical test of how the U.S. military handles allegations of sexual assault and misconduct, crimes that have long bedeviled the armed forces.
Congress and President Obama have demanded a crackdown, alarmed by a recent string of scandals and frank admissions by military leaders that they have systematically failed to address the problem.
A growing faction of lawmakers is pushing to rewrite the underpinnings of military law by giving power to uniformed prosecutors, instead of commanders, to oversee investigations of sexual abuse and other serious crimes. The Pentagon is resisting, arguing that commanders must retain the authority to enforce order and discipline in their units.
The last Army general to face court-martial was Brig. Gen. Roger B. Duff, who pleaded guilty in June 2012 to making false official statements and wearing unauthorized decorations. The Army did not publicly disclose that Duff had been court-martialed until months later, when Sinclair was charged.
In 1999, Maj. Gen. David R.E. Hale pleaded guilty at court-
martial after he was accused of committing adultery with the wives of four subordinates. He was fined and demoted. Before that, no Army general had faced court-martial since 1952, when Maj. Gen. Robert W. Grow, a military attache in Moscow, was suspended and reprimanded on charges of dereliction of duty.
Given the intense debate in Congress over possible far-reaching changes to military law, all sides are intently watching how Sinclair’s court-martial plays out. It is scheduled to begin Sept. 30 after months of evidentiary hearings and pretrial wranglings that have foreshadowed what is at stake.
Last week, the Army finished selecting a jury of five major generals, all men, who will determine Sinclair’s fate. Under military law, each juror must be senior in rank to the defendant. More than 40 generals were summoned to Fort Bragg from around the world to be interviewed. Most were rejected because they knew Sinclair or other key potential witnesses.
During jury selection, lawyers for both sides acknowledged the heavy political pressures swirling around the case.
They asked the potential jurors if they were worried that they might be passed over for promotion if they reached an unpopular verdict. They also questioned whether the generals could resist outside influences, such as Obama’s angry comments in May, when he demanded that military sex abusers be “prosecuted, stripped out of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged — period.”
Virtually all the generals said that sexual assault is a serious problem in the ranks and that they had previously heard about the charges against Sinclair. One revealed that he had attended an Army-mandated training session on sexual assault prevention in which Sinclair was depicted as a case study in bad behavior.
Another commander, Maj. Gen. Kendall W. Penn of the 1st Army, candidly recalled what he thought when he first read news accounts of the case. “My general reaction was, this is going to be a black eye on the Army,” he said. He was later culled from the jury pool.
Retired Maj. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap Jr., a Duke University law professor and a former deputy judge advocate general for the Air Force, said the atmosphere surrounding sexual assault cases in the military has become “hyper-politicized.”
He said that Sinclair could receive a fair trial but that the five jurors will have to “exercise moral courage in a way they’ve perhaps never been asked to do before in a military justice setting.”
Although Sinclair has pleaded not guilty, his attorneys acknowledge that he carried on an affair with a subordinate officer 17 years his junior. The Washington Post generally does not name alleged sex-crime victims.
During a pretrial hearing last year, the woman testified that the pair had sex in the general’s quarters in Iraq, in her car in a German parking lot, in plain sight on a hotel balcony in Arizona and in her cramped office in Afghanistan, among other places. Some soldiers wondered and snickered about their relationship, but nobody reported it.
The depth of their passion might have remained hidden if the general and the captain hadn’t bombarded each other with explicit text messages. Defense attorneys have read many out loud in court.
“You are my heart and world you beautiful magnificent man,” the captain texted the general in September 2011, during one of their tamer exchanges. “I need you and I mean really deeply profusely need you.”
Many of the text messages betray a dark side to the affair — angry accusations from the unmarried captain, as well as threats to kill herself or expose the affair to Sinclair’s superiors. During an evidentiary hearing at Fort Bragg, she testified that they fought continually but usually made up afterward.
“You are going to make me do something really stupid,” she wrote early last year in a typo-filled text. “How about I just [expletive] call [Sinclair’s commander] and have him resolve this, Im sure he will take the time to keep me from being suicidal. I well not let yoy continue to screw me over.”
The final straw came in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in March 2012. The captain was snooping through Sinclair’s e-mail in his office and discovered tender messages to his wife, as well as love notes to another female Army officer.
“I felt so stupid,” the captain testified. “I finally had something to slap me in the face and say, ‘See, he never loved you. He was just using you for sex.’ ”
By her own admission, she flew into a jealous rage. First, she fired off an e-mail to the other female officer, saying, “I hope you don’t think you’re the only girl that he’s sleeping with.”
Later that night, she burst into the office of Maj. Gen. James L. Huggins, then the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and leader of all U.S. forces in southern Afghanistan. Tears streaming down her face, she spent two hours confessing to the affair, according to court testimony.
That set off a flurry of phone calls and e-mails among senior Army brass, who were stunned but immediately ordered a full investigation that eventually roped in more than 100 witnesses.
The case grew more serious when the captain gave a formal statement accusing Sinclair of sexual assault by forcing her to perform oral sex against her will on two occasions in Afghanistan.
She also asserted that he had once vowed to kill her and harm her family if she ever told his wife about the affair. Sinclair’s attorneys deny that he made the threat.
‘It’s tearing me up’
The Army charged Sinclair with forcible sodomy because of the oral sex allegations. The captain testified that the assaults occurred between December 2011 and February 2012 but said she cannot recall the exact dates.
During an evidentiary hearing in November, she said that she still had feelings for Sinclair and that she had not wanted the Army to charge him with forcible sodomy or a violent crime.
“It’s tearing me up, and in a [expletive] way I still love him, and I don’t want him to be upset with me,” she said. “I know it’s very messed up, but there’s a part of me that wants to believe that he really did love me and that I just misinterpreted his actions.”
Defense attorneys have accused her of making up the assault allegations to save her Army career. They said she first told one confidant that the relationship was entirely consensual but gave investigators a different version after she realized that she, too, could be kicked out of the Army for adultery.
Richard L. Scheff, an attorney for Sinclair, noted that the woman has since been granted immunity by the prosecution. “The evidence in this case is paper-thin,” he said. The captain, he said, has “changed her story again and again.”
Legal representatives for the woman did not respond to a request for comment placed through Army public affairs officials at Fort Bragg.
In an unusual move in the button-down world of military justice, Sinclair has hired four civilian defense lawyers and a national public relations firm, MWW Group. They have created a Web site — sinclairinnocence.com — to dissect the case and challenge the Army.
In an interview, Scheff said the Army “grossly overcharged” his client. Given Washington’s marching orders to the military to get tough on sexual assault, he said, he doubts that any jury could render a fair verdict for Sinclair.
“They’re in the spotlight on this,” he said. “They’re under such enormous pressure to change the culture on sexual assault.”
A Fort Bragg spokeswoman said prosecutors are not permitted to comment on a pending case.
Sinclair also is charged with having inappropriate relations with three other female junior officers.
In combing through his e-mails, investigators found nude photos and flirtatious messages from two of the women but no evidence that he had sex with them. One of those officers testified that she repeatedly avoided meeting him in person, however, because she assumed he wanted to have a tryst.
At the same time, each of the three female officers testified that they admired Sinclair, considered him a mentor and didn’t want to cut off contact. Instead, they frequently sought out the general for career advice and professional favors.
In November, Sinclair’s wife, Rebecca, stunned many in the Army when she wrote an op-ed column in The Washington Post to declare that she was sticking by her husband and that she blamed his infidelity on “the stress of war.”
In an interview this month, Rebecca Sinclair said her husband may be a cheater but not a violent abuser. “I don’t excuse my husband’s bad behavior or bad judgment,” she said. “I never said it’s okay. I said I understand how it could happen.”
Although she has not attended most of the court proceedings, she said she’s still living with the general. “We’re doing the best we can,” she said. “It’s draining.”
A Wife Responds
Why I Stand By My Man
When the strains of war lead to infidelity
Rebecca Sinclair is married to Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, a former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan, who is being tried at Fort Bragg, N.C., on charges including adultery and sexual misconduct.
Like most Americans, I’ve been unable to escape the current news cycle regarding several high-ranking military generals entangled in sex scandals. Unlike most Americans, however, for me the topic is personal. My husband, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, is one of the officers.
Spectators will try to make this scandal about many things: the arrogance of powerful men; conniving mistresses; the silent epidemic of sexual assault in the armed services. But these explanations obscure an underlying problem: the devastating influence of an open-ended war — now in its 11th year — on the families of U.S. service members.
Jeff also needs to answer to the Army. That is his business, not mine, and he accepts that. I believe in and support him as much as ever.
I wish I could say that my husband was the only officer or soldier who has been unfaithful. Since 2001, the stress of war has led many service members to engage in tremendously self-destructive behavior. The officer corps is plagued by leaders abandoning their families and forging new beginnings with other men and women. And many wives know about their husbands’ infidelity but stay silent.
For military wives, the options are bad and worse. Stay with an unfaithful husband and keep your family intact; or lose your husband, your family and the financial security that comes with a military salary, pension, health care and housing. Because we move so often, spouses lose years of career advancement. Some of us spend every other year as single parents. We are vulnerable emotionally and financially. Many stay silent out of necessity, not natural passivity.
In many ways, ours is a typical military story. Jeff and I married 27 years ago. While he rose through the officer corps, I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees and taught at community colleges in the places where we were stationed. We later had children.
Since 2001, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have destabilized our life. We have moved six times in 11 years. On average, our kids change schools every two years. Between five deployments, site surveys and training operations, Jeff has spent more than six of the past 10 years away from his family.
None of this is meant to excuse infidelity. I expected more of Jeff, and I think he expected more of himself. But we’re fooling ourselves if we don’t recognize the larger reality. My friends who are married to other combat leaders have been my anchor during this crisis. We understand that our soldiers may come home disfigured or injured in such a way that we will become lifelong caregivers. We also understand that they may not come home at all, and if blessed with a reunion, they may carry emotional baggage few could understand. My friends know that it could have been their heartbreak as much as mine. This is the only time in U.S. history that our nation has fought a decade-long war with a volunteer Army. Doing so has consequences. Nothing good can come of families being chronically separated for a decade or more.
Jeff’s case has its own complications. He was involved with a woman who confessed to a superior officer. As a servicewoman, she stood to be charged with criminal conduct under the military code of justice. She alleged sexual assault, and no such allegation should ever go unanswered. We are confident that the charges will be dropped. Hundreds of text messages and journal entries came to light in pretrial hearings last week that establish the affair was consensual. The woman in question admitted under oath that she never intended to have Jeff charged, and Jeff has passed a polygraph test. Ironically, if Jeff had decided to leave his family he would be in the clear.
There are many accusations against Jeff, some of which have already fallen apart. Jeff has been charged with possessing alcohol in a combat zone; a visiting dignitary gave him a bottle of Scotch that remained unopened on a bookshelf. His personal computer was used to access pornography; time stamps and Army records show that he was out of the country or city when most of the files were downloaded. We expect those charges, too, to be dismissed.
But the damage has been done. It will take years for Jeff to shed the false image of a hard-drinking, porn-dependent aggressor. The other generals will also struggle to rehabilitate reputations they spent decades building. All of these men are human beings, with strengths and fallibilities, and they have families who are under real strain. How we address this strain will say much about what kind of country we are; it will also determine how stable and strong our military is.