Saturday, May 30, 2009

Media Mentions and the Army's Spin

On Friday, a report detailing my opposition to the confirmation of Major General Joseph Taluto to serve as Director of the National Guard was broadcast on NCPR radio [link to audio here] and syndicated nationally on NPR's "All Things Considered" [link here]. Additionally, the story of my opposition was picked up in the Schenectady Gazette [link here] and the Lower Hudson Journal [links here and here].

These stories reveal the Army's strategy for dismissing my arguments. According to Mr. Eric Durr, director of public affairs for the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, Major General Taluto should be in no way held responsible for the murder of my husband and 1st Lieutenant Allen and the subsequent acquittal of the murderer.

In the NCPR story, Durr says:

In the normal course of events, a general officer does not involve himself in what's going on in one of the seventy-plus companies that make up this twenty-three thousand soldier task force.

Yet that is not what I allege. I hold that Major General Joseph Taluto's negligence rests not with his failure to involve himself in the day-to-day minutiae of those under his command, but with his failure to enforce well-established and broad-based principles of military discipline and ensure that these principles were enforced throughout his division. Specifically, General Taluto's negligence rest in the lackadaisical enforcement of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that permeated the 42nd Infantry Division.

My husband was the victim of a long string of threats and contemptuous statements made by Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez prior to my husband's murder. One solider testified that he heard Martinez state that he wished to kill my husband over one hundred times. One field-grade officer testified that he heard Martinez say that he could kill my husband and that he did not think Martinez was joking; another field-grade officer testified that Martinez made statements of vulgar contempt just two days before the assault that took my husband's life. Major General Taluto's own son admitted to investigators that he heard Martinez wish for my husband's death and that he also thought Martinez's threats seemed credible.

Yet in the face of all these repeated, explicit and even convincing threats, not once did anyone in the 42nd Infantry Division think to enforce Article 89 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibiting disrespect to a superior officer. Had anyone fulfilled their sworn duty to enforce this article, no doubt two husbands and fathers would be alive today.

Of course, Mr. Durr has an answer to that. In the NCPR report, he says:

I would just submit that if you took the instance where everybody said "I hate that S.O.B." or "I'm going to take care of him" in a moment of anger in any organization, in hindsight it all seems wonderfully clear, but as we go through our day-to-day life, it is never that crystal clear [emphasis added].

It is precisely Mr. Durr's statement above that reveals that the Army has not learned the necessary lessons from this tragedy and why Major General Taluto must not be confirmed to serve as Director of the National Guard. Article 89 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice does not have a "wonderfully clear" clause that absolves soldiers of their duty to enforce the law in moments of alleged ambiguity. On the contrary: every article of the Code is explicitly clear in its meaning and intent and every article demands absolute fidelity. That the men and officers of the 42nd Infantry Division felt differently to the point that an officer could receive hundreds of threats against his life and no one would act to uphold the law reveals a systemic lack of discipline that indicts the entire chain of command—to include the senior-most commander who now seeks even greater responsibility.

Amazingly though, to date, not a single solider or officer of the 42nd Infantry Division has received even the slightest sanction or reprimand for his or her role in the death of my husband and 1st Lieutenant Allen almost four years ago. Again, every finger points to Major General Taluto as the architect of this absurd, patently offensive and ultimately deadly scenario, yet Mr. Eric Durr has a defense for Major General Taluto here as well. In the NCPR report, Durr says:

Major General Taluto and the 42nd Infantry Division essentially had no say in the case after about two days.

Lest we forget, within those two days that Mr. Durr refers to above, the crime scene was utterly compromised and Martinez's interrogation was so poorly handled that it would ultimately be rendered inadmissible as evidence due to what the military's own judge considered to be flagrant Constitutional violations. Within the two days that Mr. Durr acknowledges that Major General Taluto and the 42nd Infantry Division did have a say, the case against my husband's murderer would be lost.

Lastly, if Major General Taluto is not to be held accountable for the negligence, incompetence and lack of discipline that infested the 42nd Infantry Division, just who then is accountable? Why were these individuals never pursued by Major General Taluto? Why did he not rest until full and complete justice was ensured and all those who bear responsibility for this tragedy were held to account for their actions? I can only surmise that his interests and ambitions lay elsewhere.

I thus ask if this is the kind of indifferent and incompetent leadership we want governing the affairs of the entire National Guard? As one of the victims of a horrific and easily preventable crime, I say "No."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I am Scheduled to Appear on NCPR Friday Morning

Today I was interviewed by Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio to discuss my opposition to the nomination of Major General Joseph Taluto to serve as Director of the National Guard due to his role in the events surrounding the murder of my husband and the acquittal of his killer. This interview is slated to be broadcast tomorrow morning at around 8 AM. Here is the link to NCPR's live feed and a link to its featured story page where I expect my interview will also be posted.

Albany Times Union Coverage of My Opposition to General Taluto

This article [link] made the front page of the Albany Times Union. In it Robert Gavin chronicles my opposition to the nomination of General Taluto to serve as Director of the National Guard.

I noticed that Eric Durr, a spokesman for the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs, attempted to spin away General Taluto's responsibility for the murder of my husband. I think my own statements in the article refute his spin; nevertheless I'd like to answer him directly here.

A commander bears ultimate responsibility for the actions of those under his command. My charge against General Taluto is not that he was the trigger man and not that he had specific knowledge that my husband would be murdered by Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, but that the systemic lack of discipline in the 42nd Infantry Division was a product of the General’s lack of concern and professional incompetence. I simply find it unacceptable that a soldier could issue repeated death threats against his superior officer and no one in the chain of command would feel compelled to act.

Ultimately, the failure of the soldiers of the 42nd Infantry Division to enforce Army rules and regulations must rest with General Taluto. If not, one would have to claim that no one is accountable whatsoever for the state of military discipline in a military unit—yet that is precisely what Mr. Durr attempts to insinuate. Needless to say, the act recoils upon him.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Taking the fight to the US Senate

Today I visited the offices of US Senators who sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee to communicate my opposition to nomination of Major General Joseph Taluto to serve as Director of the Army National Guard. Below is the text of the letter I left with the Senators and their staff.

Re: Nomination of Major General Joseph Taluto to serve as Director of the Army National Guard

Dear Senator:

I wish to communicate to you and your colleagues serving on the Senate Armed Services committee my steadfast opposition to the appointment of Major General Joseph Taluto to serve as Director of the Army National Guard. Based upon his actions surrounding the murder of my husband, Captain Phillip Esposito in Iraq in 2005, I hold that General Taluto is utterly unsuited to hold this position of great trust and that the Senate should reject his appointment. My reasoning is as follows:

In 2005, General Taluto commanded the 42nd Infantry Division, a division defined by its lack of military discipline and disrespect for the rules, regulations and laws that govern the armed forces. Specifically, he oversaw a division in which a staff non-commissioned officer issued repeated threats of murder against his superior officer without any consequence or punishment. Additionally, court records reveal that he oversaw a division that lost nearly a million dollars of battle necessary gear—again with no consequence for those responsible.

When two officers under his command were murdered (to include my late husband), General Taluto oversaw an investigation that was so compromised that it subsequently resulted in the full acquittal of the accused perpetrator. These egregious errors denied justice to those who deserved it, ranging from the perpetrator (who deserved the full weight of the law borne upon him) to the families of the victims of this crime (who deserved the opportunity to live the rest of their lives knowing that proper justice had been served and the deaths of their loved ones had been avenged under the law).

When I approached General Taluto after the death of my husband, while initially supportive, he ultimately became evasive and defensive as it became clear that the larger negative culture of the division that he commanded led to the needless deaths of those in his charge. General Taluto refused to answer even basic questions concerning his responsibilities and the nature of his command over his men. General Taluto displayed a chronic lack of interest for the actions of his men--again, actions which led to the murder of two officers serving under his command. I maintain that even if General Taluto's duties prevented him from having direct knowledge of the actions of those under his command, he is still accountable for the overarching tone that animated his division and the professional actions of his subordinates.

Thus the horror of my life is that my husband's death was avoidable, if only a man like General Taluto had performed his job properly. General Taluto might not have set off the claymore mine that eviscerated my husband, left me a widow and left my daughter a half-orphan, but his inaction and bungling was an unforgivable catalyst for my husband's death and the acquittal of his killer. For this, Major General Joseph Taluto bears ultimate responsibility: the 42nd Infantry Division was his division and his division alone.

At root, I hold that General Taluto's actions reveal that he has nothing less than a callous disregard for the lives and fate of his own men. To somehow maintain that this general has displayed the integrity, trustworthiness and competence necessary to direct the affairs of the entire National Guard is to ignore his repeated and substantive failures. As such, I urge you and your colleagues in the Senate to reject General Taluto's nomination to serve as Director of the Army National Guard.


Mrs. Siobhan Esposito

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Fragging Widow Slams Taluto as Unfit to Lead Guard

This is a press release I sent out today in response to the nomination of Major General Joseph Taluto to serve as Director of the Army National Guard. --SME

CONTACT: Siobhan Esposito

ALEXANDRIA, VA—The widow of a slain Army officer condemned President Barack Obama's nomination of Major General Joseph Taluto to serve as Director of the Army National Guard, stating that Taluto's weak and inattentive leadership in Iraq directly contributed to the murder of her husband.

"Under Joseph Taluto's leadership, the New York National Guard unit in which my late husband served was defined by a horrific lack of military discipline and personal accountability," said Siobhan Esposito, the widow of Capt. Phillip Esposito who was murdered in Iraq alongside 1st Lt Louis Allen in 2005 by a solider under General Taluto's command. "For his many failures on the battlefield, General Taluto should be reprimanded and retired, not promoted and entrusted with responsibility over the entire National Guard."

"General Taluto permitted the soldiers in the 42nd Infantry Division to conduct themselves in an utterly un-military and unprofessional manner," said Esposito. "In the case of my husband's murder, a solider was permitted to make repeated violent threats against my husband's life—threats that culminated in my husband's murder—without so much as a slap on the hand from Gen. Taluto or his lieutenants."

"Military commanders are directly responsible for the actions of the men and women under their authority," said Esposito, "yet at no time since the murder of my husband has Gen. Taluto taken any responsibility for Phillip's death. Not once has Gen. Taluto shown that he understands that his failures led to the division that he was entrusted to command to slip to the point where actions that plainly violated the laws that govern the armed forces were left completely ignored."

"I cannot imagine a worse betrayal of the trust our nation puts in the leaders of our Armed Forces," says Esposito "than to have a person who failed to protect the welfare of our fighting men in Iraq given the responsibility to ensure the welfare of the entire National Guard."

"The US Senate should reject Gen. Taluto as unqualified to lead," said Esposito. "His inaction and negligence puts the blood of my dead husband upon his hands and in no way should he be entrusted with the lives of other military men and women."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Letter to Senator Webb

NB: I sent the following letter to Senator James Webb, who serves as one of my representatives in the US Senate and as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

March 5, 2009

The Honorable James H. Webb, Jr.
United States Senate
144 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-4604

Re: US v. Alberto Martinez

Dear Senator Webb:

I am the widow of US Army Captain Phillip Esposito who was murdered in Iraq in 2005 alongside 1st Lt. Louis Allen by one of the solders in his unit. I seek a meeting with an appropriate member of your staff so that I may brief them on the facts of this case and the various discrepancies that lead to this crime being committed and the acquittal of its perpetrator. These discrepancies include:

  1. That an individual with blemished character and a dubious past was admitted into the National Guard and placed in a position of trust and responsibility.
  2. That when this individual was accused of incompetence and corruption, he was nevertheless retained in his position. The initial attempts by his commander to relieve him were met with indifference, as if sympathy was extended not to the commander attempting to enforce order, but to the recalcitrant attempting to evade it.
  3. That when this individual issued repeated threats of violence against his commander, his outrageous and undisciplined behavior was left unchecked by his peers and the other commanders in his unit.
  4. That when this individual committed the crime of premeditated double murder, a lack of professionalism on the part of military investigators led to valuable evidence being excluded from his trial.
  5. That when this individual offered to admit his guilt and accept life imprisonment, his plea was unilaterally rejected by Army commanders and without informing the families of the dead or seeking their counsel.
  6. That a jury was seated with members that had clear conflicts of interests to include a married couple opposed to capital punishment and solider who stated that he believed that military investigators routinely lie in order to secure convictions.
  7. That when a jury was tasked with the responsibility of determining this individual's guilt under the laws that govern the armed forces, it failed to reach a logical conclusion based upon the evidence presented before it and instead voted to acquit this individual of any responsibility for his crimes.
  8. That other ancillary criminal charges against this individual were severed from the murder indictment against him and not pursued when he was acquitted of murder.
  9. That the individual's military attorneys, having full knowledge of their client's guilt based upon the ethical requirements of their submitting his plea bargain attempt to the government, nevertheless chose to celebrate his acquittal by press release, a gratuitous and unnecessary an act extending far beyond their client's right to council under the Sixth Amendment.
  10. That this individual was honorably discharged from the armed forces and released a free man without informing the families of his victims of his release and without there being any legal means to restrain him should he threaten them with his presence.

At root, the catalyst for the murder of two innocent officers was a systemic lack of professionalism and military discipline within the National Guard and Army. The American all-volunteer military is one of the greatest evolutions of freedom in human history, yet for it to meet the demands of defending the nation, this force must be a disciplined force and its members must be held to the highest standard of conduct.

As evidenced above, I have serious issues with this prosecution of this case and its larger implications for the Army. As someone who has paid an unfathomable price through the loss of my husband, I am determined that the larger problems that led to this miscarriage of justice be addressed and corrected. As you are my representative in the Senate and a member of the Armed Services Committee, I seek to enlist your support accordingly.

Please have an appropriate member of your staff contact me to arrange a meeting at their earliest convince so that I may brief them. From there, we can contemplate the next course of action. I may be reached via e-mail at [withheld] or via phone at [withheld].


Mrs. Siobhan Esposito

Saturday, February 21, 2009

'After Guilty Plea Offer, G.I. Cleared of Iraq Deaths '

It has been three months since Alberto Martinez was acquitted of his responsibility for the double murder of my husband Capt. Phillip Esposito and his comrade 1st Lt. Lou Allen. Today the New York Times ran a front page story describing how Martinez had offered a plea deal to the government acknowledging his guilt and accepting life imprisonment in exchange for his being spared the death penalty. The article details how Martinez’s offer was unilaterally rejected by Lt. Gen. John R. Vines who had made his decision without so much as informing the families affected by Martinez’s actions.

This news is shocking and offensive. I hold that Lt. Gen. Vines had an ethical responsibility to inform us that Martinez had admitted his guilt and offered a plea. Nevertheless, he withheld this crucial information from us and denied us any input into his decision. Now we have to live with the fallout of his actions while he does nothing but enjoy his retirement.

This is yet another injustice and proof that my husband and my family were betrayed by the leadership of the Army.

Update: Here is additional coverage of this story by Robert Gavin of the Times Union.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Silence Is Not Golden

It is now almost two months since the verdict that acquitted Alberto Martinez of his responsibility for the murder of my husband. I am still standing, but I am also still struggling to understand all that has happened and the reasons behind it.

A few weeks ago, I sent the following message to the members of the military jury that sat in judgment of Martinez.

I understand that my friend Barbara has contacted you and I wanted to do the same. I am writing you to ask for your assistance.

I recognize that the rules governing courts martial preclude you from discussing your deliberations in the trial of my husband's accused murderer and I respect your obligations under these rules. Nevertheless, for my own peace of mind and the peace of mind of my daughter, who I will soon have to explain all that has occurred as a result of the death of her father, I respectfully ask that you share with me your thoughts about the trial in which you served. I specifically ask that you share with me your personal estimate of the evidence presented in court.

I have reviewed the instructions that you have been given and I believe that you can share your opinions with me and do so without violating your instructions not to discuss your deliberations or the deliberations of your fellow panel members. I ask that you do as much, even as I recognize that it may be uncomfortable for you to open yourself in this way.

We sat in the courtroom together. I saw your face and you saw mine. I doubt that I need to impress upon you what the death of my husband has done to my life. What I need now is the ability to reconcile all that has happened. Good or bad, I ask that you help give me the ability to put all the facts in their proper place so that I may continue with my life. You have that power.

Not knowing or understanding is torture. I ask you to grant me some relief.

If you wish for me not to communicate with you further please let me know and I will honor that wish. My purpose is not to intrude or make you uncomfortable. My purpose is to understand.


Siobhan Esposito

Two jurors subsequently contacted me. Hearing from them has helped me--it has helped me to understand that I was not fully alone in the courtroom for those two months of trial. I thank them for their willingness to speak to me.

I do not thank the individuals behind the following message that I received via my attorney (I have redacted the personal information of the SJA and my attorney):

From: USA FORSCOM [mailto]
Sent: Mon 1/26/2009 3:26 PM
To: My Attorney

Subject: Contact with Panel Members (UNCLASSIFIED)

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE

[My attorney],

Mrs. Esposito and Mrs. Allen have been e-mailing the panel members requesting information about the trial. Please inform the spouses that the following panel members do not want to be contacted:

COL Fiorey
LTC Crespo
LTC Bowsher
MAJ Burton
MAJ Crespo
SGM Wilson
SFC Evans

I will pass on any other names of members who inform me that they do not desire further contact.



Chief, Criminal Law Division
Office of the Staff Judge Advocate
XVIII Airborne Corps
Fort Bragg, North Carolina
In my e-mail, I had addressed each juror individually. Each had an opportunity to respond to me even if only to say that they wished not to communicate. Rather than face me head on like I deserve to be faced, these jurors have decided to have the Staff Judge Advocate speak for them.

The silence is deafening. Why did these officers and NCO’s feel that there was nothing they could say to me? The military judge’s gag order only limits the jurors from talking about their deliberations. What does this say for the current leadership in the Army? One of the values the Army loves to tout when it is convenient for them is personal courage which is egregiously absent in this instance.

* * *

All this serves as yet another reminder of the massive dereliction of duty that resulted in the murder of Phillip and Lou and that perpetuates this injustice. Where was the Army four years ago about enforcing good order and discipline? Where was the Army when my husband asked for its help? Instead it let two exemplary officers get brutally murdered while its members stood by and let it happen.

My husband has been failed by his Army peers, by the former president and vice president of the United States, our current secretary of state, Senator Lieberman and the Adjutant General of New York. The list keeps getting longer and longer--and all in the name of what? I am afraid to contact my representatives from the state of Virginia because I don't think that I can handle the list getting any longer.

There is no excuse for this morally reprehensible conduct—not for the verdict, not for the time up to the trial, not for the time after it and not for everything that allowed this pointless crime to happen in the first place.

I am told that I need to move on and put all this in the past. I know that as much is said to Barbara as well. Others seem to be able to live in a state of denial and without so much as an afterthought. Barbara and I continue to be less fortunate.