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."

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