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."