After Pentagon inquiries, three Army generals censured for misconduct
After lengthy investigations, the Pentagon has determined that three Army generals committed misconduct in separate incidents, adding to an unusually long list of senior military commanders who have been censured over the past year.
On Friday, defense officials confirmed that Army Maj. Gen. Ralph O. Baker, the commander of a strategic counterterrorism force on the Horn of Africa, was fired March 28 on charges of sexual misconduct. Two officials familiar with the case said Baker was investigated for allegedly groping a female civilian employee after he had been drinking.
In addition, documents obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act show that the Pentagon’s inspector general upheld misconduct allegations against two Army lieutenant generals last year: David H. Huntoon Jr., the superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; and Joseph F. Fil Jr., a former commander in South Korea and Iraq. Neither episode had previously been disclosed by the Pentagon.
The cases have exacerbated concerns about the ethics and personal behavior of senior military officers, a problem that has bedeviled the Pentagon in recent months despite repeated pledges to address it.
In November, then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta ordered a sweeping review of ethical training and standards for generals and admirals after several high-profile scandals tarnished the reputations of some of the military’s most prominent commanders.
That month, Panetta demoted Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward, chief of the military’s Africa Command, and required him to reimburse the government $82,000 after investigators found he took lavish personal trips — including a week-long mission to Bermuda — at taxpayer expense.
Last year, the Pentagon’s inspector general rebuked another commander, Lt. Gen. Patrick J. O’Reilly, head of the Missile Defense Agency, for creating a toxic atmosphere and berating staff members.
In an interim report in December, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recommended to Panetta that military officers receive ethics training more frequently and earlier in their careers.
Dempsey finished a more detailed ethics review in February, right before Panetta left office, and also shared the results with President Obama, said Marine Col. David Lapan, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs. The findings of that review have not been made public.
Lawmakers have expressed particular concern about another case involving a one-star Army general, Jeffrey A. Sinclair, who is facing a court-martial at Fort Bragg on charges of sodomy and wrongful sexual conduct with several women under his command. He has deferred entering a plea.
The Pentagon is grappling with a soaring number of reported sexual-assault cases amid criticism that it has papered over the problem.
“The military leadership still sees this more as a public relations problem than as a crisis,” said Nancy Parrish, president of Protect our Defenders, a nonprofit group that represents victims of sex crimes in the military. “When will there be a catharsis when it comes to changing the culture of our military and a system that is broken?”
News of Baker’s firing comes at a particularly awkward time for the Defense Department, which had been publicizing several events to commemorate April as national Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.
Benjamin Benson, a spokesman for the Africa Command, said Baker was relieved of his position because of “a loss of confidence in his ability to command.” He declined to comment further, citing a pending appeal. Baker did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Records obtained by The Post show that the Pentagon’s inspector general also substantiated misconduct charges last year against Huntoon, the West Point superintendent.
Huntoon declined a request for comment, referring questions to Army headquarters at the Pentagon.
Late Friday, in response to inquiries from The Post, the Army announced that Huntoon would retire this summer “after 40 years of honorable and distinguished service.”
In an e-mailed statement, George B. Wright Jr., an Army spokesman, said the Pentagon inspector general had investigated Huntoon for “an allegation of an improper relationship” but found it to be “non substantiated.” Wright declined to say whether Huntoon faced other allegations of misconduct but said the general had no pending disciplinary action against him.
The inspector general’s office said it did substantiate allegations of misconduct against Huntoon but would not describe them or comment on the Army’s statement.
A spokeswoman, Bridget A. Serchak, said the agency would eventually release its investigative reports into Huntoon and other senior officials, but only in response to a separate, and still-pending, Freedom of Information request from The Post.
Records show that the Pentagon inspector general also upheld misconduct charges last year against Fil, another three-star Army general and former commander of the Eighth Army in South Korea.
The Army said Fil retired at a lesser rank, as a major general, last summer. Both the Army and the inspector general’s office declined to comment on the investigation that targeted him.
In a brief phone interview, Fil acknowledged that the inspector general had upheld two misconduct charges against him but he declined to elaborate.
“It was an extraordinary extension of the rules, beyond common sense,” he said from his home in Alabama. “But I don’t think it would be wise or helpful to plow into this thing.”