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3-star seen as trying to block Afghan hospital probe retires at rank

Nov. 6, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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A three-star general has retired and kept his rank even after an inspector general found he tried to block his subordinates from communicating with inspectors about patient abuse and corruption at a large Afghan hospital.

Lt. Gen William B. Caldwell IV ended his military career and began work Nov. 1 as the president of Georgia Military College, a junior college and preparatory school based in Milledgeville, Ga. He was named to the post in February.

In September, Caldwell, 59, relinquished command of the U.S. Army North/Fifth Army at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, after a 37-year career.

The Defense Department Inspector General had recommended that Army Secretary John McHugh “take appropriate action against” Caldwell and his then-deputy Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton.

Patton, who now heads the Pentagon’s sexual assault and prevention office, through a Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment while his case is pending. Caldwell declined to comment through a college spokesperson.

“Following the Department of Defense's Inspector General investigation, Lt. Gen. Caldwell requested that he be retired, knowing that these substantiated allegations would directly prevent any future promotion or assignment to a position of importance and responsibility,” said George Wright, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon. “Secretary McHugh weighed the findings, Lt. Gen. Caldwell's potential to advance to General, and recommended that he be allowed to retire, effectively ending his career with the United States Army.”

The Aug. 13 report, first reported by Bloomberg News, found Caldwell issued restrictive orders in an attempt to control communications with a team of DoD IG investigators probing mismanagement at the U.S.-funded Dawood National Military Hospital in Kabul, the report said.

Caldwell at the time led NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, which was responsible for building up and training the Afghan security forces.

Caldwell sent three emails investigators deemed restrictive. One stated that “NOTHING” was to be communicated to the DoD IG without his approval.

Patton was cited for forwarding one of the emails. Patton did not question the restrictive orders or ask for clarification, though he served with Caldwell for a year and as one of the most senior officers below Caldwell, the report states.

Caldwell and Patton’s actions came after the inspector general for the training command, Col. Mark Fassl, sent a seven-page report to the DoD IG that outlined shortcomings in patient care and contained pictures of starving Afghan soldiers.

Caldwell countered that his emails reflected his frustration that Fassl contacted the IG in his official capacity and purported to represent the command. Caldwell argued that it was never his intent to limit personal communications with the IG.

But investigators found Caldwell never clarified the distinction.

“Lt. Gen. Caldwell’s emails appear to broadly limit the ability of members of the command to contact outside entities, including the IG and members of Congress,” the IG’s report states. “Lt. Gen. Caldwell’s encouragement of transparency as a general concept did not change the restrictive nature of the emails sent to his staff.”

Fassl maintained he could not risk the issue being lost in the command structure.

“It was pretty clear with me that the command didn’t want to handle these situations out in the open, OK,” he testified. “They didn’t want to ask for outside help. So any attempt for me to engage a higher order of IG was met with a restriction.”

In 2012, Congress conducted hearings into conditions at Dawood. Fassl testified he urged a probe, met resistance up the chain of command and was later ordered by Caldwell to retract a request for an inspection.

Fassl had alleged Caldwell cited the upcoming 2010 congressional elections and his connection to President Obama when he ordered the retraction — though several of Caldwell’s subordinate officers said they did not recall him making any remarks about the president.

In testimony on Capitol Hill, Caldwell disputed the colonels’ testimony, saying he only wanted a short delay to inform his superior, then-Gen. David Petraeus, about the need for an investigation. Caldwell said he also needed time for Petraeus to ask Afghan President Hamid Karzai to remove the Afghan surgeon general, whom U.S. officials believed was responsible for corruption and conditions at the hospital.

The DoD IG found Caldwell and Patton did not breach regulations governing restricted political activity. It found they violated the law that protects communications between military personnel and Congress or inspectors general.

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