05/31/2005: This is the thanks you get....
When I woke up this morning, Rachel Maddow was discussing this on her Air America radio show: Unceremonious end to Army career
John Riggs spent 39 years in the Army, earning a Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery during the Vietnam War and working his way up to become a three-star general entrusted with creating a high-tech Army for the 21st century.Hmmmm. And how much do you want to bet that form letter was machine signed?
But on a spring day last year, Riggs was told by senior Army officials that he would be retired at a reduced rank, losing one of his stars because of infractions considered so minor that they were not placed in his official record.
He was given 24 hours to leave the Army. He had no parade in review, no rousing martial music, no speeches or official proclamations praising his decades in uniform, the trappings that normally herald a high-level military retirement.
Instead, Riggs went to a basement room at Fort Myer, Va., and signed some mandatory forms. Then a young sergeant mechanically presented him with a flag and a form letter of thanks from President Bush.
"That's the coldest way in the world to leave," Riggs, 58, said in a drawl that betrays his rural roots in southeast Missouri. "It's like being buried and no one attends your funeral.""Maybe I have a higher standard for these things...." How can that slimy bastard say that with a straight face? If he had truly high standards, he'd hand in his letter of resignation, and spit in the face of The Dishonorable Secretary of Defense as it hands it in.
So what cost Riggs his star?
His Pentagon superiors said he allowed outside contractors to perform work they were not supposed to do, creating "an adverse command climate."
But some of the general's supporters believe the motivation behind his demotion was politics. Riggs was blunt and outspoken on a number of issues and publicly contradicted Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld by arguing that the Army was overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan and needed more troops.
"They all went bat s- - when that happened," recalled retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner, a one-time Pentagon adviser who ran reconstruction efforts in Iraq in the spring of 2003. "The military part of [the defense secretary's office] has been politicized. If [officers] disagree, they are ostracized and their reputations are ruined."
A senior officer's loss of a star is a punishment seldom used, and then usually for the most serious offenses, such as dereliction of duty or command failures, adultery or misuse of government funds or equipment.
Over the past several decades, generals and admirals faced with far more serious official findings - scandals at the Navy's Tailhook Convention, the Air Force Academy and Abu Ghraib prison, for example - have continued in their careers or retired with no loss of rank.
Les Brownlee, who was then acting Army secretary and who ordered that Riggs be reduced in rank, said he stands by the demotion. "I read the [Army inspector general's] report and made that judgment. I happen to think it was that serious. Maybe I have a higher standard for these things," Brownlee said in an interview. "I still believe it was the right decision."
What bothers me is that if these infractions were that serious, why the hell wasn't some formal action taken? I realize that when one achieves the rarified heights that LTG Riggs reaches that a referral to a court martial isn't likely, though that's probably the most appropriate disposition. But usually (in my experience in the Navy), referal to nonjudicial punishment (the kiss of death to any officer's career), or at least the issuance of a formal letter of reprimand, is most appropriate. But no, not in Rumsfeld's military. After all, that might leave some sort of record that will show the arbitrary and capricious nature of this punishment. And, gee, I wonder what gives me the idea that these alleged improprieties are trumped up? After all, it's not like such a course of action would be beneath slime like Rumsfeld.
But let's give the Dishonorable Secretary of Defense the benefit of the doubt. There was an investigation, after all:
Riggs himself and investigation documents say he was the subject of anonymous allegations that he was violating the Pentagon's contracting regulations and having an affair with one of the contractors.And what does GEN Keane have to say about the affair now?
The Army inspector general's office opened a probe in the spring of 2003. At the same time, a criminal investigation also looking at the issue of contractors was launched by the Army's Criminal Investigation Command.
Only the inspector general came back with findings of fault. An October 2003 letter from Lt. Gen. Paul Mikolashek, the inspector general, found two violations of contracting rules but concluded that the allegation of "an adulterous affair with a female contractor was not substantiated."
The report prompted Gen. John M. Keane, the Army's No. 2 officer, to write a disciplinary "memorandum of concern" to Riggs. The memo found that a female contractor was allowed to draft congressional testimony, respond to congressional correspondence and communicate with Capitol Hill staffers.
Allowing a contractor to perform functions that should have been undertaken only by government employees was improper, Keane wrote.
Also, since the contractor was serving in a role similar to that of a deputy director or executive officer, that amounted to an improper "personal services contract" that should have been filled by a government employee. Riggs was put on notice "to comply with all regulatory requirements," but Keane wrote that the memo would not be filed in Riggs' personnel records.
Now retired, Keane said demoting Riggs based on a penalty that represents the "minimum administrative punishment" at his disposal was a "tragic mistake."The again, maybe the charges weren't trumped up. But we're certainly seeing what appears to be SOP for the Dishonorable Secretary of Defense: fuck up at the top, and then let the underlings take the blame....
"It is outrageous that John Riggs was reduced in rank for such a minor offense, which should never outweigh his 30-plus years of exemplary service to the Army and the nation," Keane wrote in a letter to Army officials supporting Riggs' restoration as a lieutenant general.
Keane said the Army was partly to blame for Riggs' predicament because the service downsized its support personnel and forced officers to hire private contractors. "I believe we blurred the lines of contractors and department employees, so much so that many of the supervisors just saw it as one team," Keane wrote. "While John Riggs did blur those lines, we, the Army, contributed directly to that without a clear policy and clear command guidelines."
And of course, the Dishonorable Defense Secretary is so very concerned with, y'know, consistency in meting out punishment:
What's striking about the Riggs case is the comparison with how the Army and the other services have handled even more serious cases.Were there any justice, it'd be the Dishonorable Secretary of Defense that would be retiring.... right before being cuffed and taken to The Hague (along with his bosses) to stand trial for their crimes against humanity.
Seven years ago, Maj. Gen. David Hale, the Army's inspector general, was allowed to hastily retire after allegations that he pressured the wife of a subordinate into a sexual relationship. An Army investigation uncovered other affairs with subordinates' wives, and Hale was later put back on active duty and court-martialed. But it took an Army review panel another six months after his conviction to determine that Hale should be reduced by one star to a brigadier general.
Two Navy rear admirals were given letters of censure for not stopping lewd behavior at the 1991 Tailhook Association convention in Las Vegas, where dozens of women were groped and fondled by Navy and Marine Corps aviators. Both admirals retired at their two-star ranks.
More recently, the Air Force removed the four top officers at the U.S. Air Force Academy as part of a housecleaning after a sex scandal in 2003. While the superintendent was demoted from a three-star to a two-star rank, the other officers went on to jobs with similar responsibilities.
But lucky for them, there is no such thing as justice.
Len on 05.31.05 @ 07:23 AM CST