Two recent disciplinary actions involving U.S. Army generals suggest the extent to which the senior command structure has been compromised by the widespread corruption that has been clearly visible in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) is still in operation to oversee the much scaled-down assistance that continues to be given to Baghdad to rebuild its military and infrastructure. There have been 117 indictments for corruption by American contractors and military officers, 42 arrests, and 90 convictions for fraud amounting to $220 million.  Ninety-seven investigations are ongoing.

The much larger rebuilding effort in Afghanistan, which is being monitored by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), has 188 open investigations. An Army officer was recently arrested and convicted in the largest bribery case ever recorded in Afghanistan while a number of other military personnel have also been charged with accepting kickbacks, bribery and fraud. SIGAR reports that “The US Army accepted contract construction that is so poor it prevents some multi-million dollar border police bases from being used as intended.”

Accepting fraud and waste as part of doing business during America’s global war on terror has bred a climate in which no accountability and stretching the rules have become the norm. Military officers in both Afghanistan and Iraq became accustomed to having large quantities of cash on hand to hand out as needed. And when something goes wrong, the military’s response also reveals that a separate standard of justice for senior officers has become the status quo in the U.S. armed forces.

A bizarre case of senior officer misbehavior occurred in June when Colonel James Johnson III, the West Point educated son of a Lieutenant General, was fined $300,000 for adultery, bigamy, conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and associated crimes that he committed to support a relationship with an Iraqi woman whom the married Johnson met in 2005. The girlfriend’s father was hired as Johnson’s “cultural adviser” and given government contracts worth $74,600 for which no actual work was required. The girlfriend and her family ran up $80,000 in charges on an Army cell phone.  Johnson later used US Army vehicles, credit cards, and travel vouchers to make frequent visits to the girlfriend and he unsuccessfully tried to deliver on a fraudulent contract which would have paid for the purchase of Dutch made windmills that extract humidity from the air, turning it into water which can be bottled. The father would have made $500,000. Johnson later claimed that the windmills would have “saved American lives.” Johnson was reprimanded but not discharged from the army or reduced in rank and he retained his substantial pension and benefits.

Johnson was a full colonel, but courts martial of generals are extremely rare. There have been only two in the past ten years, one just concluded in June in which Brigadier General Roger Duff former commander of the 95th Training Division pleaded guilty to making false official statement, conduct unbecoming an officer and seven counts of wearing unauthorized badges, awards, or ribbons. A military judge sentenced Duff to dismissal from the service, but his pension and benefits were not touched.

In March 1999 Maj. Gen. David R.E. Hale pleaded guilty to seven counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman and one count of making a false official statement related to an adulterous relationship. He received a reprimand, a $10,000 fine and forfeited $1,000 pay per month for a year. He was ordered to retire as a brigadier general.

One of those currently accused is General William Ward, who was until recently the four star commanding general of the newly created Africa Command. Ward was cited in a Pentagon inspector general’s report “for multiple forms of misconduct.” The report claimed he had used military vehicles to take his wife to spa treatments and shopping trips, stayed at government expense in a $750 a night suite in a hotel in Bermuda, misused government aircraft to transport family and friends, lodged in a number of hotels at government expense while not engaged in official business, and demanded a five vehicle motorcade every time he had to visit Washington. He also accepted dinner and tickets for Broadway shows from a defense contractor and stayed in the Waldorf-Astoria with staff members and family when he was in New York on vacation.

Interestingly, there is no suggestion that Ward will even be court martialed in spite of the IG report. He is planning on retiring and the only question is whether it will be as a four star general with a pension of $236,650 or as a three star general at $208,802. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has yet to make a decision on the retirement and it is reported that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey has recommended that Ward be allowed to retire as a four star. A junior officer or enlisted man who had engaged in comparable misconduct would undoubtedly be court martialed, probably sent to jail, forced to pay compensation, dismissed from the service and denied all benefits.

In a more serious case, Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair has been shipped home from Afghanistan where he was the deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division. Sinclair has been charged with forcible sodomy, wrongful sexual conduct, inappropriate relationships, fraud, forgery, and possession of alcohol and pornography. Alcohol is prohibited by general order among US troops in Afghanistan though it is reported to be readily available in some units, together with drugs like hashish and marijuana. A Defense Department official further elaborated by stating that “several women were the subject of Sinclair’s alleged misconduct.”

Sinclair is now at Fort Bragg where he is working as special assistant to the commander of the 18th Airborne Corps. He is not under detention and is awaiting an Article 32 hearing that will determine if his alleged offenses justify a court martial. It has been suggested that Sinclair might be able to short circuit the entire process by retiring. The Uniform Code of Military Justice permits an officer to retire to avoid court martial, but the retirement has to be approved by Secretary of the Army John McHugh who appears to be under pressure from Secretary Panetta to move towards a trial. The Sinclair case is also bringing to the fore the usual complaints about two standards of justice in the military. An enlisted man charged with forcible sodomy would be confined when charged and, if convicted, would undoubtedly spend years in prison, be discharged from the service, and would be stripped of all benefits. He would not be able to retire to avoid punishment.

The Army has proven reluctant to prosecute sexual assault cases. Secretary Panetta said in a September 27th interview that “It’s an outrage that we aren’t prosecuting our people involved here.” Only 240 cases of assault were prosecuted out of more than 3,000 reported last year. But the real problem is that ten years of warfare coupled with ill-advised and largely unmonitored reconstruction programs have bred an entitlement culture where anything goes for those who are among the military’s most senior ranks.  There is a tendency within Congress, in the White House, and from the public and media to forgive the “misdemeanors” of the men and women “warriors” who are “defending our freedom.” Rather, the military has become bloated and unaccountable and the best remedy would be less understanding and more emphasis on a major effort to clean out the Pentagon’s Augean Stables.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.