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Hearing set for US general accused of sex crimes

The public is expected to get its first glimpse Monday at the evidence against U.S. Army general facing court-martial on sex crimes charges, a rare criminal case against a high-ranking officer that has thus far been shrouded in secrecy.

An Article 32 hearing is scheduled at Fort Bragg for Brig. Gen. Jeffery A. Sinclair, who was sent home from Afghanistan and later charged Sept. 26 with a long list of crimes that include forcible sodomy, wrongful sexual conduct, violating orders, engaging in inappropriate relationships, misusing a government travel charge card, and possessing pornography and alcohol while deployed.

But the Army has kept details confidential, refusing to identify the officer who will preside over the hearing and military lawyers assigned to defend Sinclair. The general was serving as deputy commander in charge of logistics and support for the 82nd Airborne Division before being abruptly relieved during his most recent combat tour.

A Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Associated Press seeking the charging documents summarizing the evidence against Sinclair was denied by the Pentagon, which claimed the papers were exempt from disclosure.

"Release of these documents could reasonably be expected to interfere with law enforcement proceedings, would deprive Brig. Gen. Sinclair of a fair trial or impartial adjudication and could also reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," Lt. Col. Nelson Van Eck, Jr., the acting chief of the U.S. Army's Criminal Law Division, wrote in an Oct. 24 letter.

That is not the position Army prosecutors took when releasing charging documents, similar to indictments in civilian courts, in other high-profile cases.

In March, the Army quickly released charge sheets laying out evidence against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the soldier accused of gunning down 17 Afghan civilians, including children sleeping in their beds, during a massacre in southern Afghanistan.

The Pentagon has rebuffed repeated requests for explanation of how the general's rights are different from a sergeant's.

Eugene R. Fidell, a co-founder of the National Institute of Military Justice who also teaches the subject at Yale Law School, said the Army's refusal to release the charge sheets could give the appearance Sinclair is getting special treatment and undermine public confidence.

"When you see something like this, you realize somebody doesn't get it. This is a self-inflicted wound," said Fidell, who served as a military lawyer in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Fidell said it is not unusual for a high-ranking officer facing criminal charges to be treated differently than an enlisted defendant. For instance, Sinclair was never arrested on charges that would typically land a soldier in jail until trial.

Two defense officials who spoke to The Associated Press last month said the charges against Sinclair involve several female subordinates. They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to provide details of the case.

Since returning to Fort Bragg in May, Sinclair, 50, has been assigned as a special assistant to the commanding general of 18th Airborne Corps. No restrictions on his movements were imposed following his arrest, said Fort Bragg spokesman Benjamin Abel.

Sinclair, a paratrooper who has been in the Army for 27 years, was serving his third deployment to Afghanistan. He had also served two tours in Iraq, as well as a tour in the first Gulf war.

Sinclair could not be reached for comment because his phone number is unlisted and he lives behind the post's guarded gates.

It is rare for a criminal case against a general to proceed to a court-martial. There have been only two recent cases.

Earlier this year, Brig. Gen. Roger Duff pleaded guilty to charges of conduct unbecoming an officer, wearing unauthorized awards or ribbons and making a false official statement. Under a pre-trial agreement, he will be dismissed from the military.

Before that, Maj. Gen. David Hale pleaded guilty to charges related to adultery and was ordered to retire at a reduced rank.

Although Sinclair faces more serious charges, Fidell said he wouldn't be surprised if Sinclair's case ends with a reduction in rank and forced retirement.

"The sanctions (against those of high rank) tend to be more in the nature of political sanctions, in other words getting rid of people rather than sending them to the brig," he said. "It's a rare thing for an officer to go to jail."

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