Mil­i­tary tar­gets se­nior of­fi­cer mis­con­duct cases

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY LOLITA C. BAL­DOR

Mil­i­tary lead­ers are try­ing to fix the lengthy, in­con­sis­tent process for in­ves­ti­gat­ing se­nior of­fi­cers ac­cused of mis­con­duct, The As­so­ci­ated Press has learned.

They are seek­ing to change a hodge­podge sys­tem in which in­ves­ti­ga­tions can drag on for years while tax­pay­ers pay six-fig­ure salaries to of­fi­cers rel­e­gated to mi­dlevel ad­min­is­tra­tive posts.

Trust in the dis­ci­plinary sys­tem “is strained,” the chiefs of the four mil­i­tary ser­vices said in a memo to De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter. The memo was ob­tained by The As­so­ci­ated Press.

The chiefs said they planned to set up a task force to study the is­sue. It would be cre­ated by the end of the year and likely in­clude for­mer mem­bers of the mil­i­tary, law­mak­ers, and for­mer in­ves­ti­ga­tors or in­spec­tors gen­eral. The panel would be charged with pro­vid­ing spe­cific pro­pos­als within 10 months.

The memo said the ser­vice lead­ers have con­cerns about “our in­ter­nal pro­cesses to re­spond promptly and eq­ui­tably when there are ac­cu­sa­tions of mis­con­duct.”

There are no real pol­icy guide­lines or reg­u­la­tions that gov­ern where the of­fi­cers go and what jobs they can hold while they wait for in­ves­ti­ga­tions to end. In­stead, de­ci­sions are made by com­man­ders on a case-by-case ba­sis that pro­vides lit­tle guar­an­tee of equal treat­ment across the Army, Navy, Air Force and Ma­rine Corps, or even for those within the same ser­vice.

“We are very frustrated by the amount of time it takes for us to process things,” said Lt. Gen. Gary Cheek, di­rec­tor of the Army staff. “In many cases this is in fair­ness to the in­di­vid­ual as well as to run the process through the lev­els of re­view. But it can take months to ad­ju­di­cate some of these and we would greatly pre­fer that to be weeks, not months.”

Eu­gene Fidell, a lawyer who spe­cial­izes in mil­i­tary cases and teaches at Yale Law School, said the lengthy process wastes money and is par­tic­u­larly dam­ag­ing for those ul­ti­mately found in­no­cent or not charged. And he said it can treat of­fi­cers dif­fer­ently, even if they com­mit­ted the same offense.

“There are peo­ple who are hung out to dry, and it’s ex­tremely un­fair be­cause it’s vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to put Humpty back to­gether again,” Mr. Fidell said.

As an ex­am­ple, for the past year, Army Maj. Gen. Ron Lewis has been por­ing over older mil­i­tary reg­u­la­tions to see what needs up­dat­ing. His work, in a small subur­ban Virginia of­fice as a spe­cial as­sis­tant to the Army’s per­son­nel chief, isn’t far from the Pen­tagon.

But it’s a uni­verse away from his high­pow­ered job as se­nior mil­i­tary ad­viser to Mr. Carter — a job he lost amid charges of im­proper be­hav­ior and mis­use of a govern­ment credit card.

He will stay there un­til the Army de­cides on his case and de­ter­mines at what rank he can re­tire — a de­ci­sion that could af­fect his an­nual in­come by tens of thou­sands of dol­lars.

The Navy, mean­while, has of­fi­cers wrapped up in a lengthy, com­pli­cated cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion, in­volv­ing bribes from Malaysian busi­ness­man Leonard Glenn Fran­cis, also known as “Fat Leonard.” A to­tal of 16 peo­ple, in­clud­ing nearly a dozen cur­rent and for­mer Navy of­fi­cials, have been charged so far in the scan­dal, which has dragged on for about three years.

In some cases, such as Gen. Lewis’, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is done by the Pen­tagon’s in­spec­tor gen­eral. Oth­ers are han­dled by the mil­i­tary ser­vices’ in­spec­tors gen­eral, and in cases like “Fat Leonard,” the Jus­tice De­part­ment drives the probe.

There are about a half-dozen ac­tive duty se­nior lead­ers — mainly two- and three-star of­fi­cers — who are work­ing in ad­min­is­tra­tive jobs now, wait­ing for fi­nal de­ci­sions on mis­con­duct in­ves­ti­ga­tions. Over the past five years, there have been nearly 30.

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