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U.S. Army general apologizes for improper relationships

Source: Reuters - Wed, 19 Mar 2014 19:19 GMT
Author: Reuters
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(Recasts with the general's statement to the court)

By Kelly Twedell

FORT BRAGG, N.C., March 19 (Reuters) - A U.S. Army general who pleaded guilty to mistreating a junior female officer during one of several inappropriate relationships said on Wednesday he felt deep shame and remorse for the selfish acts that hurt his family and the service.

Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair's admissions of wrongdoing could bring jail time, though not as severe a punishment as he faced before being absolved of sexual assault charges in a plea deal this week.

A military judge could decide Sinclair's sentence as soon as Wednesday, two years after criminal charges upended the career of the former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and focused attention on how the U.S. armed forces handle sexual misconduct cases.

"I have been in limbo, with no purpose and no ability to be useful to the Army or my country," Sinclair said in a tearful statement to the court. "I've been frustrated and angry, but I don't have to look any further than the mirror for someone to blame."

Sinclair, 51, a married father of two, apologized to the three junior female officers from whom he sought a date or nude photographs and to the female Army captain he admitted he emotionally harmed during an adulterous sexual affair.

"It was my responsibility to ensure that these officers were protected and promoted and I failed them as a leader," Sinclair said at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he has been based since being stripped of command in southern Afghanistan in May 2012 as a result of the case.

The one-star general asked the trial judge, Colonel James Pohl, to allow him to retire at a reduced rank and to not deprive his family of military benefits.

Prosecutors asked that he be dismissed from the Army for his conduct.

The general's plea agreement with the government put an undisclosed cap on the possible penalties he will face.

CHARACTER DEFENSE

Earlier Wednesday, male and female soldiers called as defense witnesses during Sinclair's sentencing hearing described the 27-year Army veteran as an inspirational, fearless leader whom they admired despite his mistakes.

"He was easily the best brigade commander I worked for, selfless, more concerned about what his troops are doing than what his bosses think," said Colonel Kenneth Kelley, who served with Sinclair in Germany and Iraq and traveled from Japan to testify on his behalf.

The general's defense team is arguing against Sinclair going to prison for his military crimes, which also include possessing pornography on his laptop while deployed in Afghanistan, misusing his government credit card to visit his mistress and referring to female officers with derogatory language.

Though his main accuser stands by her allegations that he forced her to perform oral sex when she tried to break off their illicit relationship, Sinclair was cleared of sexual assault charges through the plea bargain.

Also dropped were charges that Sinclair had sex with the captain, a military intelligence officer, in a parking lot in Germany and on a hotel balcony in Arizona, and that he threatened to kill her if she exposed the three-year affair.

"For General Sinclair to serve a day in jail would be a travesty," lead defense attorney Richard Scheff said.

Prosecutors sought to show through their witnesses that the general was prone to anger and that his actions harmed female junior officers and brought disrepute to the Army.

The rare court-martial against a general unraveled and resulted in the plea deal after Pohl ruled politics appeared to have improperly influenced the Army's decision to reject an earlier offer by Sinclair to plead guilty if the charges of coercive sex acts were dismissed. (Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Scott Malone, Cynthia Osterman and James Dalgleish)

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