Col. James H. Johnson and his wife Kris at a formal affair in Bamberg, Germany, in the summer of 2009.

Col. James H. Johnson and his wife Kris at a formal affair in Bamberg, Germany, in the summer of 2009. (Photo courtesy of Kris Johnson)

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The former commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team was found guilty Wednesday of two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.

A jury of five colonels found Col. James H. Johnson III guilty of the two specifications at his court-martial in Kaiserslautern after more than three hours of deliberation.

His two teenage children sitting in the gallery, who are estranged from their father, smiled at the verdicts. His parents, Edna and retired Lt. Gen. James H. Johnson Jr., looked stricken. Col. Johnson showed no emotion.

He had already pleaded guilty to 15 other charges, including fraud, bigamy, adultery, wrongful cohabitation and violating regulations or orders. All his crimes came from a relationship he had with an Iraqi family — Alladin Al-Atar, his wife and his daughter, Haveen — whom he met on deployment in 2005. According to the evidence, Johnson gave the family a government cellphone that racked up $80,000 in charges, hired the father of the family as a “cultural adviser” though he was unqualified and committed the other crimes because he had fallen in love with the man’s daughter.

During closing arguments Wednesday, prosecutor Lt. Col. William Helixon told the jury that Johnson, while deployed in Afghanistan, had “used soldiers’ lives as a ruse to help his mistress’s father as he pushed for a contract bringing windmills to Afghanistan — a contract that would financially benefit Al Atar.

“That is the ultimate manipulation,” an indignant Helixon said. “It almost goes without saying ... it is conduct that disgraces the officers and the Army.”

The windmills, made and marketed by a Dutch company, were supposed to turn humidity in the air into potable water, which could be bottled and used by U.S. soldiers and Afghans, according to testimony.

Johnson’s defense lawyer, Lt. Col. Charles Kuhfahl, in his closing argument, said prosecutors had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Johnson had pushed for the contract to benefit Al-Atar.

“I wonder if the parents of the soldiers that had to deliver that water to these FOBS — I wonder if those parents think that’s conduct unbecoming,” Kuhfahl said.

Kuhfahl also said, “There is no crime in the military for being a friend of somebody.”

The colonel faces a maximum punishment of more than 50 years of confinement although the panel could also sentence him to no time. He also faces dismissal from the military and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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