FORT BRAGG, N.C. - A US Army general was cleared of sexual assault charges on Monday but admitted, as part of a plea deal in the rare court-martial of a senior military officer, that he mistreated a captain during an illicit sexual relationship.
Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair also pleaded guilty to using his government credit card for expenses connected to the affair and referring to other female officers with derogatory names in an agreement with the government that dismissed the most serious allegations against him.
The 27-year Army veteran said he knew the female Army captain with whom he had a three-year extramarital affair was enamored by his rank, and he led her on despite knowing he would never divorce his wife.
When he grew fearful that his subordinate would expose what he said was a consensual relationship, he flirted with other women and was cold to her in hopes she would break off the secret liaison that spanned two war zones, Sinclair told a judge. "I failed her as a leader and as a mentor and caused her harm to her emotional state," the one-star general said.
Though the deal absolves Sinclair of charges that he forced the captain 17 years his junior to perform oral sex, engaged in"open and notorious sexual acts" with her and threatened to harm her if she exposed the affair, his decorated military career is almost certainly over.
Sinclair's attorneys will argue during the sentencing phase, which began on Monday, that he should avoid jail time and be allowed to retire at a reduced rank in keeping with how officers in similar cases have been treated.
The lawyers say Sinclair's case is one of the few courts-martial of a general in nearly 60 years and was fueled by political concerns as the US military grapples with how to handle rising sexual assault in its ranks. "Clearly what General Sinclair did was wrong, but it certainly had the appearance that he was being the scapegoat for the bigger sexual assault problem that the military's going through," said Morris Davis, a retired Air Force colonel and former chief prosecutor for terrorism trials at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who is not involved in the case.
ACCUSER STANDS BY ALLEGATIONS
An attorney for the captain who gave tearful testimony about her volatile relationship with Sinclair said she maintained that the general sexually assaulted her and sabotaged her career by keeping her under his command.