The sexual misconduct complaints piled up on the desk of Maj. Gen. Michael T. Harrison Sr., the commander of U.S. Army forces in Japan. A colonel on his staff had been accused of having an affair with a subordinate, of drunken and inappropriate behavior with other women at a military club and lastly, of sexual assault.
But Harrison let most of the complaints slide or reacted with leniency, according to the Army. He had known the colonel for two decades and said he didn’t believe some of the allegations. In March 2013, when a Japanese woman accused the colonel of sexually assaulting her, Harrison waited months to report it to criminal investigators — a clear violation of Army rules, according to an internal investigation.
As chronicled by that investigation, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, the general’s handling of the case provides a textbook example of the Pentagon’s persistent struggle to get commanders to take reports of sexual misconduct seriously.
Stung by troop surveys that show most sex-crime victims don’t trust the military to protect them, the Defense Department has repeatedly pledged to fix the problem and punish commanders who don’t get the message.
“Everyone in positions of leadership are accountable,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday during a visit to a military call center for victims of rape, abuse and incest. “It doesn’t make any difference if you’re at the top of the military structure, a four-star general, or if you’re a private first class. You’re accountable.”
The military, however, has been slow to impose discipline on offending senior leaders.
The Army suspended Harrison in June for mishandling the case involving the Japanese woman but only after she took her frustrations outside the chain of command. She complained to the Army inspector general as well as to a Japan-based reporter for Stars and Stripes, a newspaper that covers the military.
After conducting an investigation, the Army inspector general rebuked Harrison in August for protecting the colonel and failing to take appropriate action. But the Army kept the results under wraps until this week, when it released a heavily redacted copy of the investigative report in response to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by The Post.
Despite the suspension and rebuke, the Army brought Harrison back to the Pentagon to take another important position, as director of program analysis and evaluation for an Army deputy chief of staff. He received an administrative letter of reprimand in December for mishandling the sexual-assault case and other complaints, but remains on active duty.
Harrison’s attorney said the general officially notified the Army last week that he intends to retire after 33 years in the service. The lawyer, Michael J. Nardotti, Jr., said the timing had nothing to do with the Army’s decision to finally release the investigative report, six months after The Post first requested it.
“It was clear to him that this is in his best interest,” Nardotti said of Harrison’s retirement plans. He said that Harrison had accepted responsibility for the mishandling of the sexual assault case but that he wasn’t trying to bury the complaint. He also noted that the Army leadership continues to hold him in high esteem.
“People have noted the outstanding job that he has done in that role,” Nardotti said of the general’s current assignment. “He didn’t simply come back and say, ‘Now that this adverse action is underway I’m not going to do my job.’ He did his job. He’s soldiered on for the entire period.”
George Wright, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said the decision to relieve Harrison of command in Japan and to reprimand him effectively ended his military career.
“There should be no mistake that we will thoroughly investigate any allegations of impropriety and take appropriate action when warranted,” Wright said.
Army generals who have gotten in trouble for misconduct or inappropriate behavior toward women have often remained in the ranks for a long time.
Brig. Gen. Bryan T. Roberts, the former commander of Fort Jackson, S.C., was found guilty in a disciplinary hearing in August of assaulting a mistress and committing adultery; a separate investigation found that he also had affairs with two other women. He was fined $5,000 and issued a written reprimand.
He did not retire until April 1, almost eight months later. Army Secretary John McHugh reduced Roberts in rank to colonel, although he remains entitled to retirement benefits under federal law, Army officials said.
Brig. Gen. Martin P. Schweitzer was admonished by the Army last summer after an internal investigation found that he had e-mailed crude, sexually explicit jokes to other commanders about a female member of Congress, Rep. Renee L. Ellmers (R-N.C.). Schweitzer — who later told Army investigators that his e-mails were “childish” and “truly stupid” — still works at the Pentagon on the Joint Staff, although his prior selection for promotion to major general has been placed on hold.
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair was reprimanded and fined $20,000 last month after he admitted during a court-martial at Fort Bragg, N.C., that he had a long affair with a female officer under his direct command as well as inappropriate relationships with two other women.
He had originally been charged with sexual assault in March 2012, but that count was dropped as part of a plea deal. He remains on active duty, although his attorneys have said he plans to retire. Army officials said it can often take months to process retirement papers.
Two Air Force lieutenant generals also were forced to retire in recent months after they granted clemency to officers convicted of sexual assault — but only after an outcry from some members of Congress.
In Japan, where the Army has 2,300 soldiers and employs 5,000 civilians, a cascade of leadership problems surfaced at the end of Harrison’s tenure as commander.
On the same day that Harrison was suspended in June, the Army suspended or reassigned four colonels who worked for him, as well as a senior civilian official.
Lt. Col. Kevin R. Toner, a spokesman for U.S. Army Japan, declined to elaborate on the reasons for the mass suspensions and reassignments, except to say that most were unrelated to the investigation targeting Harrison.
One of those suspended was the colonel accused of sexual assault. The Army would not name him because his case did not result in a court-martial, but Toner said the colonel was subjected to administrative discipline.
Toner said the new commanding general. Maj. Gen. James C. Boozer Sr., conducted leadership surveys at U.S. Army Japan after taking over from Harrison but did not find “systemic concerns about misconduct.”
But a female captain who served under Harrison in Japan said that she personally knew of several sexual assault and harassment cases that languished or were dropped. Among them was a complaint she filed against a male major for harassing her during her maternity leave and making sexually offensive remarks.
“The system is so flawed that it’s almost not worth reporting anything,” said the captain, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she remains in the Army and fears reprisals. She said some junior officers took sex-crime cases seriously, but “they just kept running into roadblocks.”