In some countries the military is a respected institution because it is viewed as less corrupt than the corresponding civilian governments. The United States, which is now completing an eleventh consecutive year of soldier worship, has a somewhat different take on men and women in uniform. The pervasive corruption in America’s public life, to include the military, is a subject that no one likes to broach because it is largely invisible unlike an Egyptian customs officer demanding baksheesh to clear a suitcase and its contents at the airport. The public and media persist in thanking the armed forces for defending the nation’s freedom, even though ironically it is the war on terror that they are allegedly fighting in places like Afghanistan that has stripped away many basic liberties back here at home. There is also huge corruption involved in Pentagon procurement and enormous waste in defense programs.
Personal corruption of US military officers is also on the increase judging from the successful prosecutions relating to kickbacks connected to contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. A bizarre case recently surfaced in Germany, however, which possibly demonstrates that United States military justice is becoming somewhat third worldish in that the officer class will take pains to protect its own. A panel of five Colonels fined another Colonel, James Johnson III, the West Point educated son of a Lieutenant General, $300,000 for adultery, bigamy, conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and associated crimes that he committed to support the illicit relationship. The charges relate to an Iraqi woman whom Johnson met in 2005. Johnson is in the middle of a messy divorce from Kristina his American wife of 23 years, whom he once accused of leading “masturbating” sessions for other officers’ wives at an army base. She returned the favor, describing him in the courtroom as a “pathetic human being.”
Johnson hired his girlfriend’s father as his “cultural adviser” and was convicted of providing to the father government contracts worth $74,600 for which no actual work was required. He later gave the girlfriend a US Army cell phone on which her family ran up $80,000 in charges. When the Iraqi family later moved to the Netherlands, Johnson used US Army vehicles, credit cards, and travel vouchers to make frequent visits from Italy, where he was then stationed, to Holland. Johnson unsuccessfully tried to deliver on other fraudulent contracts, one of which would have paid for the ostensible purchase of Dutch made windmills that extract humidity from the air, turning it into water which can be bottled. The girlfriend’s father would have made $500,000 from the deal if it had gone through. In his defense, Johnson, who described his crimes as “errors in judgment,” claimed that the windmills would have “saved American lives” and that he and his girlfriend and her father used the army phone to discuss counterinsurgency issues while he was in Afghanistan.
Johnson, who was most recently commander of the elite 173rd Airborne Brigade stationed in Vicenza Italy, was on a fast track to make general in the army before he came to grief. He will clearly have some problem in paying his $300,000 fine (or maybe not depending on what other corners he might have cut while in Iraq and Afghanistan), but the interesting aspect of his day in court is what he was left with. He was reprimanded, which means he will never again be promoted, but not discharged from the army or reduced in rank and he will still have his substantial pension. His monthly base salary as a colonel with 26 years in the military is $10,351 and his pension would amount to roughly three quarters of that sum, plus government paid medical care and other benefits, for the rest of his life. I would suggest that an enlisted man or junior officer engaging in various frauds amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars would have been cashiered with a bad conduct discharge, forced to pay full compensation, and would spend considerable time in prison without a golden handshake pension waiting on the other end.
The trial of Johnson was reported extensively in the military media. The numerous comments that I read through were, to their credit, running 100% against Johnson and the leniency of the five judges, whose names have not been and will not be revealed. The soldiers and officers who expressed a judgment complained about two-tiered military justice and all believe that Johnson should have gone to jail and should not have been allowed to remain in the army. But apparently a panel of five colonels, officers and gentlemen all, thought otherwise.