BERLIN – The former commander of the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade went on trial Sunday on suspicion of fraud, conduct unbefitting an officer, bigamy and other charges related to an alleged long-term extra-marital affair he had with a woman he met in Iraq, while they were both living in Europe. He pleaded guilty to most of the charges.
Col. James Johnson III, a West Point graduate, is being court martialed before a panel of officers in western German Kaiserslautern. He was relieved of his command of the Vicenza, Italy-based 173rd in March 2011, and faces multiple years in prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted of all of the counts against him and given the maximum penalties.
Johnson faces six charges with 27 specifications of single incidents; out of those, six were dismissed at the trial's start Sunday, and Johnson pleaded guilty on 15 of them, according to Army public affairs officer Hilde Patton. He pleaded not guilty on six specific occurrences, which will therefore be evaluated by the court martial. No plea deal was entered, she said.
Johnson, the son of retired Lt. Gen. James H. Johnson Jr., who led the Fort Bragg, 82nd Airborne Division during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, was seen as a rising star in the Army before the charges were levied.
The defendant is accused of having carried on an affair with an Iraqi woman he met in Iraq in 2005-06, who was the daughter of his cultural adviser, and having married her before being divorced from his own wife in a ceremony that was carried out by proxies for both of the two in Montana in November. It was not clear whether Johnson's own divorce has now gone through.
The woman, identified in court documents as Haveen Alladin Muhammed Al-Atar, has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
According to the charge sheet, Johnson made numerous trips to visit the woman in the Netherlands using official vehicles and travel cards, which are government-issued credit cards.
He is also accused of arranging official transport worth thousands of dollars for the woman, tens of thousands of dollars of contracts for her father for things that "were neither produced nor received," and giving the family an Army cell phone on which they ran up more than $80,000 in charges.
The court martial resumes Monday morning. It is scheduled to go through June 16.