FORT BRAGG, N.C. » U.S. Army prosecutors offered the first details of a rare criminal case against a general, alleging in a military hearing today that he committed sex-related crimes involving four female officers and a civilian.
A hearing on evidence in the case against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair began today at Fort Bragg, home to the 82nd Airborne Division. Officials said the Article 32 hearing, similar to a grand jury proceeding in civilian court, was expected to last at least two days.
But before prosecutors could start presenting their case, defense lawyer Lt. Col. Jackie Thompson said military investigators had violated his client’s rights by reading confidential emails he exchanged with his lawyers and wife discussing the accusations against him.
Under questioning from Thompson, the lead investigator for the case acknowledged she had read the confidential e-mails, violating the terms of the subpoena used to obtain them from Sinclair’s service provider. Those e-mails were later turned over to prosecutors, who are barred from seeing Sinclair’s communications with his counsel.
Thompson then asked Criminal Investigative Command Special Agent Leona Mansapit if she had the resources she needed to conduct a proper investigation in Sinclair’s case.
"Probably not, sir," Mansapit replied. "I wish I had."
The defense is asking the officer conducting the hearing, Maj. Gen. Perry L. Wiggins, to either require all new prosecutors to be assigned or that the case be thrown out.
Sinclair faces possible courts martial on charges including forcible sodomy, wrongful sexual conduct, violating orders, engaging in inappropriate relationships, misusing a government travel charge card, and possessing pornography and alcohol while deployed.
He served as deputy commander in charge of logistics and support for the division’s troops in Afghanistan from July 2010 until he was sent home in May because of the allegations.
The sex-related accusations against Sinclair range from forcing a female officer to perform oral sex to having an extramarital affair with a civilian woman. Sinclair is married and adultery is a crime under the military code of justice.
In one instance, prosecutors also said that Sinclair threatened one woman’s military career if she refused his advances. Later, prosecutors alleged that he threatened her life and the lives of her relatives if she told anyone about his actions.
When other officers questioned how the general spoke to women under his command, Sinclair was reported by prosecutors to have replied, "I’m a general. I’ll say whatever the (expletive) I want."
Prosecutors alleged the general’s illegal acts took place between 2007 and 2012 in places including Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany, as well as Fort Bragg and Fort Hood in Texas.
The Army had kept details secret until now in the rare criminal case against a high-ranking officer. That is different from other high-profile case where Army prosecutors were quick to release charging documents.
In March, the Army quickly released charge sheets laying out evidence against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the soldier accused of gunning down 17 Afghan civilians during a massacre in southern Afghanistan.
The first Article 32 hearing in Bale’s case also began today across the country in Washington at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle.
There have been only two other court-martial cases against Army generals in recent years.
Before prosecutors can present evidence to support the accusations against Sinclair, much less move to a courts martial, Wiggins must decide whether to move forward with the Article 32 hearing.
"The investigators were tainted, and they tainted the prosecutors," Thompson told Wiggins. "They bungled the investigation, and if you leave them in place, they will bungle the prosecution as well."
A visibly flustered Lt. Col. William Helixon, the lead prosecutor, was put in the uncomfortable position of calling two of his fellow prosecutors to the witness stand to deny they had read the privileged e-mails. The defense learned of the apparent violation by spotting the e-mails among 16,000 pages of evidence turned over by the prosecution earlier this month.
Wiggins called a recess until 4 p.m. to consider what happens next.