FORT BRAGG, N.C. - A US Army general who admitted to an adulterous sexual affair and other improper relationships with junior female officers was spared jail and dismissal from the service on Thursday, a sentence critics decried as a failure of military justice.
The case that derailed the 27-year Army career of Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair ended with a reprimand and $20,000 (S$25500) in forfeited pay as punishment after a plea deal in the rare court-martial of a top officer absolved him of sexual assault charges.
The one-star general's defence team said they were grateful for the sentence ordered by the trial judge, Colonel James Pohl. They argued Sinclair was unfairly portrayed by the Army as a sex offender when he was guilty of far lesser wrongdoing.
"The system has worked," a relieved Sinclair said after court in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. "All I want to do now is hug my kids and be with my wife."
Advocates of military justice reform said the case proved the armed forces still tolerates sexual misconduct in its ranks despite political pressure from Congress and the president to curb it. They said the lenient sentence for Sinclair would have a chilling effect on other victims of abuse.
"He made out like a bandit," said Eugene Fidell, a professor of military justice at Yale Law School. "This is a baffling denouement to a disturbing case."
The sentencing coincided with another high-profile military trial involving charges of sexual assault. A judge found a Naval Academy football player not guilty on Thursday of raping a female midshipman at an alcohol-fueled off-campus party in April 2012.
Sinclair, 51, a married father of two boys, was a rising star in the Army with five combat tours under his belt before criminal charges two years ago saw the former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division stripped of his duties in southern Afghanistan.
A female captain 17 years his junior said she and the general had a three-year illicit affair, during which she alleged he had sex with her in a parking lot in Germany and on a hotel balcony in Arizona, threatened to kill her if she exposed the relationship, and forced her to perform oral sex when she tried to break it off.