Military Bad Behavior Goes All the Way to the Top

More than two dozen U.S. generals and admirals have been investigated for personal misconduct over the past 15 months, according to a report by the Washington Post, many of them for charges of sexual assault. 

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More than two dozen U.S. generals and admirals have been investigated for personal misconduct over the past 15 months, according to a report by the Washington Post, many of them for charges of sexual assault.

The Post got hold of previously confidential files via the Freedom of Information Act that detail the investigation of members of the top military brass since former general and head of the CIA, David Petraeus, resigned because of an extramarital affair — which is illegal under military law. The Petraeus scandal was especially shocking because he had, up until that point, been known for stellar conduct and integrity.

Documents seen by WaPo reveal that Brig. Gen. Bryan T. Roberts, who said last year that the Army "had zero tolerance for sexual harassment and sexual assault," was under investigation at the time for allegedly assaulting a mistress. The woman said she had maintained a romantic relationship with Roberts for 18 months, and that though the sex was consensual he had become violent on four occasions. Military investigators ultimately linked Roberts romantically to three women before suspending him in May, and firing him from his top position at Fort Jackson in July.

In August, after a closed disciplinary hearing, the Army found Roberts guilty of assaulting the first mistress on one occasion and committing adultery with her over a nine-month period. He was fined $5,000 and issued a written reprimand but retained his rank as a one-star general.

The newspaper also learned that Commander Martin P. Schweitzer wrote sexually explicit remarks about Rep. Renee L. Ellmers, whose district includes Fort Bragg, in an email briefing colleagues on a meeting. Again, the Post:

Schweitzer gave a pointed summary of the meeting in an e-mail to a superior, Maj. Gen. James Huggins, while copying Sinclair, then a fellow colonel and an 82nd Airborne commander. “First — she is smoking hot,” Schweit­zer wrote.... That, and what came next, led prosecutors to turn over the e-mail chain to the Army inspector general for a full investigation. “He sucks :-) still needs to confirm hotness,” Sinclair teased in a reply. More than an hour later, Schweitzer responded with an apology for the delay, saying he had masturbated “3 times over the past 2 hours” after the meeting with the congresswoman.

Schweitzer apologized for the emails, saying he's just bad at making jokes:

My comments were a terrible attempt at humor. I didn’t mean them literally or figuratively, I simply meant them to try and be funny during a very tense period within the command to a limited audience. I know they were not appropriate. It was stupid.

The Post also looked into top military officials for abusing alcohol and other cases of misconduct. The military has dealt with a series of embarrassing episodes of late, including an admiral using counterfeit chips at a casino, a nuclear commander who partied too hard in Russia, and one commander who used government dollars to fund an expensive vacation in the Caribbean.

Last week, President Obama called sexual assault "an affront to our basic decency and humanity," and made combating abuse a focus for the remainder of his term.

Sexual abuse in the military, specifically, has received a lot of attention from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and other legislators in recent years. Gillibrand is leading the way to alter how sexual abuse in the military is handled, and has been pushing (unsuccessfully) to remove rape trials from the tutelage of the military's judicial system. In November, Gillibrand said her proposal would secure "objective review [of sexual assault cases] outside the military chain of command." The amendment could be especially needed if the Washington Post report is indicative of a broader sense of hypocrisy among top military officers, who say one thing and do another, making it harder for victims to expect justice.

Incidents of sexual abuse are generally underreported, and especially so within the stratified military ranks. Still, reports of sexual assaults in the Army rose significantly from 2011 to 2012, suggesting that more victims are speaking out — and that actual cases of abuse may be even more rampant.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.