The highest-ranking enlisted soldier in the Army issued a threat through his lawyers Wednesday that if he is put on trial on sexual misconduct charges, his defense team will show that top-ranking officers within the Army were not prosecuted for the same alleged crimes.
“We will open up all of the Army’s dirty laundry if this case goes to trial,” said Charles Gittins, the civilian defense lawyer for the soldier, Gene McKinney, the sergeant major of the Army.
“If we go to trial, this is war,” the lawyer said at a preliminary hearing. “How can the Army say they are going to take these kinds of actions against the sergeant major of the Army when they have a history of not doing so with officers - white officers, senior officers?”
McKinney, who has been accused by six women of sexual misconduct and suspended from his duties, has proclaimed his innocence, insisting that he has been prosecuted by the Army because of his race.
He is the first black man to rise to the rank of sergeant major of the Army, a position in which he was responsible for the welfare of the Army’s 410,000 enlisted troops and which gave him access to the disposition of cases that his lawyers threatened Wednesday to expose.
The defense threat, made during a break in a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to put McKinney on trial, appeared to be an effort to pressure the Pentagon to forgo a court-martial and grant his request to retire with full benefits.
Gittins said at a news conference after the hearing that the defense would be able to show that McKinney was the victim of discriminatory prosecution because several high-ranking white Army officers “got no punishment at all for the same types of misconduct.”
Gittins said that the accusations included sexual harassment and adultery and were made against more than three senior Army officers, whom he did not identify. “The sergeant major of the Army is in a position where he knows those kinds of things,” Gittins said.
Some of the officers, the lawyer said, were still in uniform, while most were allowed to retire without charges because “it would have been embarrassing to the Army to do anything more than allow the person to retire.” All, he said, had ranks of colonel or above and had been based in the Washington area.
Gittins said he would make public the evidence against the officers even if a trial judge ruled it inadmissible at a court-martial of McKinney.
Five of the six female accusers have already testified at the preliminary hearing, which is being held in Washington at Fort McNair and is now in its seventh week.
McKinney is accused of assault, maltreatment of subordinates, adultery, making threats and obstruction of justice. If convicted of all of the charges, he could face up to 56 years in a military prison.