Pentagon inquiry into article clears McChrystal and aides
UPDATED: April 18, 3:25 p.m.
WASHINGTON – Inflammatory statements about civilian officials that cost the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan his job last year could not be independently confirmed or were taken out of context, according to a Department of Defense report released Monday.
Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal was recalled to Washington by President Barack Obama and resigned in June in the wake of a Rolling Stone article that reported senior members of his staff had made mocking remarks about Vice President Joe Biden and security advisers to the president.
But the Pentagon Office of the Inspector General’s review of an earlier Army investigation said the Army had erred in finding that McChrystal subordinates had made some of the alleged statements.
“Not all of the events at issue occurred as reported in the article,” the IG report said. “In some instances, we found no witness who acknowledged making or hearing the comments as reported. In other instances, we confirmed that the general substance of an incident at issue occurred, but not in the exact context described in the article.”
A spokesman for McChrystal, who was invited earlier this month by the Obama administration to lead an initiative in support of military families, declined comment on the report Monday. The author of the Rolling Stone article, Michael Hastings, also declined comment.
To come to its conclusions, the inspector general’s office re-interviewed six witnesses the Army had questioned, as well as nine additional witnesses. Rather than be re-interviewed, McChrystal referred investigators to his testimony to Army investigators. Hastings, who has stood behind his article, also declined an interview.
In a statement, Rolling Stone said the report offered no credible refutation of anything in the story. That interviewees could not confirm details was unsurprising, the magazine said, because “the civilian and military advisors questioned by the Pentagon knew that their careers were on the line if they admitted to making such comments.”
In one incident on which the inspector general’s team focused, a top McChrystal aide was reported to have said, “Biden? Did you say: Bite me?”
Though witnesses confirmed someone had made such a statement, the “hectic control room environment” made establishing the exact words or the speaker impossible, according to the report.
Pentagon investigators also could not independently verify a reported instance of McChrystal making a “middle-finger” gesture at his executive officer. But, the report said, “the gesture, if made, would not have been a failure by Gen. McChrystal to treat his Executive Officer with dignity or respect.”
The inspector general report said it could not confirm Rolling Stone’s reporting that McChrystal had characterized President Obama as looking “uncomfortable and intimidated” in a meeting with military officials. Instead, according to the report, witnesses emphasized McChrystal “considered the content of his discussions with the President sacrosanct.”
In fact, the inspector general report said, none of the 10 instances in the article that described problematic behavior could be verified: “The evidence was insufficient to substantiate a violation of applicable DOD standards with respect to any of the incidents on which we focused.”