FORT BRAGG, N.C. – Speaking in a hoarse voice with a rich Southern drawl, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair pleaded guilty Thursday to several misconduct charges, describing to a military judge an illicit sexual affair with a junior officer and inappropriate sex talk with two other female officers who sent him nude photos of themselves.
Alternately expansive and evasive, Sinclair walked the judge through sexually charged communications with female officers and said he viewed pornography on a personal computer in Afghanistan. Several times, he openly admitted that his behavior was unbecoming an officer and brought dishonor to the Army.
“Senior officers should not do that,” Sinclair said after admitting one encounter with a junior female officer.
Sinclair continues to deny the most serious accusations, which include charges he forced his mistress to perform oral sex and threatened to kill her and her family if she divulged their affair. His court-martial on the remaining counts will continue today.
The case of Sinclair, one of the highest-ranking officers to be court-martialed, has become a national emblem of the military’s struggle to cope with sexual assault in its ranks. His guilty pleas to the lesser charges came the same day the Senate failed to pass legislation that would have stripped senior military commanders of their authority to decide whether to prosecute sexual assault cases.
For more than an hour Thursday, the one-star general stared intently at the judge, Col. James Pohl, while recounting encounters with women in Afghanistan, Iraq, Germany and the United States. The confessions came after Sinclair entered guilty pleas to adultery, improper relationships with three junior officers, possessing pornography and impeding an investigation of his conduct.
Pohl approved the guilty pleas. Prosecutors later dismissed two relatively minor counts: pressuring a female major to send him nude photos, and engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a civilian woman who was a longtime friend and who also sent him nude photos of herself.
Asked several times by Pohl whether he considered his behavior improper and in violation of military regulations and good order and discipline, the general responded, “Oh, yes, sir” or, simply, “Absolutely, sir.”
Sinclair, 51, a former deputy commander of U.S. forces in southern Afghanistan, still faces more serious charges of sexually assaulting his lover, an Army captain, after their three-year affair soured, and threatening her and her family. He also faces charges of sodomy, groping the captain against her will, using demeaning language, engaging in sex in public places, and misusing his government credit card.
All but the credit card charges are based on accusations by the 34-year-old captain, who is expected to be among the first government witnesses to testify at the court-martial after opening statements today.
If convicted on the remaining charges, Sinclair could face life in prison. For the charges to which he pleaded guilty, he faces penalties of up to 15 years in prison, forfeiture of pay and allowances, and severance from the Army.