Thursday, August 11, 2005

Justice for a General

According to The New York Times, Army Times, CNN/AP, and many other media reports, an Army four-star general has been relieved of command. General Kevin P. Byrnes, formerly Commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, was fired. Sacked. That's what "relieved of command" means.

General Byrnes committed the offense of adultery. He did it with a woman who isn't in the military and isn't even an employee of the government. What's more, the relationship began after his marriage failed, he was separated, and he had filed for divorce.

According to the reports I've read, his offense is limited to the relationship itself. He didn't exercise improper influence over anything or anyone, and he didn't misuse government resources in pursuing the relationship.

Adultery is punishable under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) , as detailed in the Manual for Court Martial (MCM). One of the required elements of proof to support a charge of adultery under Article 134 is that his behavior was prejudicial to good order and discipline or brought discredit to the armed forces. Usually, a good military prosecutor can prove this element against a day-old ham sandwich.

General Byrne may have lied when first confronted with an accusation of adultery, which many people do when pressed on an issue involving sexual behavior. Telling a lie is also punishable under the UCMJ in certain circumstances, either as a false official statement under Article 107 or as perjury under Article 131.

Behavior that potentially violates the UCMJ doesn't have to end up in a court martial or in administrative punishment. Sometimes it results in relief from duty and/or an official letter of reprimand. While this doesn't involve jail time or monetary fines, it's personally and professionally devastating to a career soldier. And sometimes no action is taken at all, which is an appropriate exercise of reasonable discretion.

General Byrnes is a remarkable officer who overcame astronomical odds to become one of the Army's 11 four-star generals. His was a career of service and self-sacrifice, to include risking his life in combat. Does 35 years of remarkable achievement deserve to be forever sullied by the ignominy of being relieved of command for a relatively minor offense? What he did may have been a violation of the UCMJ. But discretion is always involved, and in my opinion it was poorly exercised by the Army leadership in this case.

Let's put it in perspective. In all the recent scandals associated with prisoner abuse, as far as I know only one brigadier general was punished by relief from command and a letter of reprimand. Moreover, with all the evident failure of planning and preparation for the aftermath of the campaign to destroy the old regime in Iraq, not one general has been disciplined, as far as I know.

For more perspective, consider that the Commander-in-Chief himself, not separated from his wife and not getting a divorce, repeatedly had oral sex in the White House with a young intern over whom he exercised tremendous official influence. More than that, he committed perjury when questioned about his behavior. Yet he breezed past impeachment and remains a man of honor, at least among some Americans.

Where's the justice?


Blogger Orikinla Osinachi. said...

The hypocrites who condemned and judged this general have their own skeletons in their cupboards. Even worse than Adultery.

What did our Lord Jesus Christ say?
"Let who has not sinned cast the first stone."
And none could cast a stone.

The general should not worry.

He would be better off without this company of wolves.

Are they holier than him?

1:16 PM, August 11, 2005  
Blogger sygamel said...

Pretty terrible. Such a short leash for a 4 star -- what a shock.

2:22 PM, August 11, 2005  
Anonymous Schmedlap said...

Does 35 years of remarkable achievement deserve to be forever sullied by the ignominy of being relieved of command for a relatively minor offense? What he did may have been a violation of the UCMJ. But discretion is always involved, and in my opinion it was poorly exercised by the Army leadership in this case.

I think that this is a question for the General. I would guess that he would respond "no" and in that case, one must ask - why did you do it? The Army has standards. He failed to meet a standard of conduct and received his punishment. As a General with 35 years of service, he should have known better. It is a shame to end such a remarkable career this way, but he only has himself to blame.

3:55 PM, August 11, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Schmedlap, I have to pretty much agree with what you said. However, given the perspective I tried to put the case into in the post, it sure seems out of kilter to me. There were other actions the leadership could have taken, such as issuing him a letter of reprimand and letting him continue in command until he retired shortly thereafter. I think that would have been appropriate, unless there's a heck of a lot more to this case than we know about.

4:04 PM, August 11, 2005  
Anonymous JJR said...


Personally, I think you hit the nail on the head there. There had to be more to the story than is being released.

The only comparable story I can think of the the general (I forget his name) who turned out to have coerced a woman (a fellow, lower-ranked officer's wife) into an affair and then went to great lengths to cover it up. The final straw for him was that he went on to be the Army IG, and used his influence in that position to try to stop any investigations.

Also, speaking as a former infantryman and later JAG officer, adultery is one of the hardest charges to prove (for a multitude of reasons I won't go into here), and the story here just doesn't make complete sense. I would think there has to be quite a bit more that's not getting released. It's a drastic step to relieve a commander, especially at that level and only a few months before he leaves command and retires anyway.

5:52 PM, August 11, 2005  
Anonymous WTFO said...

He signed my Article 15 in Bosnia (SFOR 7/8 1st CAV).
He punished me for an administrative "letter of the UCMJ" offense. What goes around.

6:25 PM, August 11, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Sorry to hear that, WTFO. You left out one important point--what did you do to get an Article 15?

By the way, I wonder how many of our readers know what "WTFO" stands for?

6:29 PM, August 11, 2005  
Anonymous Frederick Schoeneman said...


I'm comfortable having the military hold itself to a higher standard than other branches of government, so it doesn't bother me that there's a double standard between Clinton and Byrnes. There should be. But you're absolutely right that the military does need to be more accountable for tactical and strategic mistakes -- such as those that occured in Somalia back in 1994.

I think that many of the mistakes we've seen in Iraq can be attributed to civilian interference such as in the first version of Fallujah. But the brass bears responsibility as well, and if they believe a more aggressive, assertive posture will save lives in the long run they ought to push harder for it or resign. The trouble with punishing some of these guys is that they're so risk averse -- it's hard to nail someone for a risk they didn't take.

When the civilian leadership punishes the chain of command for not being aggressive enough, we might see a little better success. Until then.


6:41 PM, August 11, 2005  
Blogger Amal said...

So you are telling me that the upper echelons of Army command think it is ok to torture and maim but having a girlfriend can get you sacked?

How much longer are the inmates going to run the asylum?

7:51 PM, August 11, 2005  
Anonymous WTFO said...

I wrote a long email that detailed corruption in the Russian Separate Airborne Brigade (RSAB), and the Idaho National Guard newsletter published it as an article (w/out permission). When copies got to Bosnia the RSAB flipped out and called for my nuts on a yardarm. KP Byrnes denied me Trial Defense Service (in Heidelberg), and claimed he couldn't fly one into theater without Pentagon approval.
"Good Order and Discipline," etc.
Of course when I demobilized, it was torn up.

9:00 PM, August 11, 2005  
Anonymous Kevin said...

I agree that it certainly seems out of kilter. Although, I do have to agree with schmedlap's point that if this really was just about adultry then the General really has nobody else to blame. He had to have known better. If he didn't then he was a danger to national security and needed to be removed.

JRR's point about there having to be more to this than we are seeing makes a great deal of sense to me. I rather suspect he's right.

10:42 PM, August 11, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Fred and Kevin, you may be right that there's more to this than we know, but possibly not. Adultery is an offense often punished out of proportion to its real seriousness. I guess that's my main objection; it really seemed excessive in this case. It may not be fair to compare it to other possible offenses, but the temptation is strong to do so.

Fred, I don't know about this business of being "risk averse." Maybe it applies in the political upper echelons of the Pentagon sometimes, but I don't think it's generally true. I know it isn't true at lower levels, in general.

WTFO, I've heard stories about the RSAB, and I'm sure what you wrote was accurate. You may not have intended for it to be published, but when it was you were probably in violation of an order or regulation, even though you may not have meant to be. I'm not sure what you meant when you said Byrnes "signed" your Article 15. I suspect it was imposed by a lower-ranking commander and signed by him on appeal. In any case, you're not entitled to a Trial Defense Service attorney in an Article 15 proceeding. It's administrative and non-judicial, in other words, not a trial. If you had wanted it, you could have demanded a court martial and would have had TDS representation.

2:39 AM, August 12, 2005  
Blogger profmarcus said...

what i'd like to know is where is the justice for gen ricardo sanchez who perjured himself under oath before the senate armed services committee last year when he denied that he had approved interrogation techniques at abu ghraib that he had actually authored himself in a memo from the previous year...?

2:05 PM, August 16, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I knew Byrnes when he commanded the 1CD DIVARTY at Fort Hood, TX in 1991-92. He was then, and still is now, an asshole. And not just your everyday run-of-the-mill asshole, mind you - he is a special kind of asshole. This kind of person makes enemies, and payback in this town (DC) is a bitch, let me tell you.

Ironically, Byrnes used to tell us "Don't do anything you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the Washington Post." Of course, a few weeks ago he was on the front page of the Post for his screw up. Now that's karma!

This is not about adultery. It is about hypocrisy. Byrnes is a hypocrite. When I knew him at Fort Hood, he was "burn happy." He would burn officers and NCOs for the slightest infraction. It's great to see him get a taste of his own medicine. Like I said, payback in this town (DC) is a bitch.

9:08 PM, August 24, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

I don't personally know Byrnes, and I can't comment on your experience with him. I'm familiar with the type you're talking about, though. My reactions to his case have been more on principle rather than about him as an individual. Given your opinion of him, I can see how you might find some poetic justice here.

5:45 AM, August 25, 2005  
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1:11 AM, November 28, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I knew Kevin Byrnes. This guy was an arrogant asshole. It's great to see justice done. He was a poor excuse for an officer of the US Army.

2:21 PM, June 22, 2010  

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