Saturday, December 4, 2010

Unconventional Heroes

Two years ago today, a military court-martial acquitted Staff Sergeant Alberto B. Martinez of the double premeditated murder of my husband, Army Captain Phillip Esposito and First Lieutenant Louis Allen. After hearing evidence that placed Martinez at the scene of the crime, put the weapon that Martinez used in his hands, and showed how months of Martinez's threats and contempt culminated in Martinez's deliberate killing, this military jury nevertheless saw fit to absolve Martinez of his crimes. If the murder of my husband and Lieutenant Allen was vicious and senseless, the actions of the jury two years ago today only compounded that injury. I have often times heard of people who cry "no justice, no peace" as a threat. For me, such a cry is a sad fact of reality, for without justice, how can there ever be peace?

Alberto Martinez's brutality and cowardice was wicked and inexcusable. My husband and Lieutenant Allen were each men of moral stature and ability. Martinez murdered them for carrying out the obligations of their commissioning oaths; Martinez murdered them because Phillip and Louis accepted a solemn responsibility as officers and they chose to fulfill that responsibility.

Yet as much as Alberto Martinez squelched Phillip and Lou's lives, and as much as he escaped legal punishment for his crimes, his actions recoil upon him. Because of their unfailing devotion to the good, no matter the opposition, Phillip and Lou attained a unique grandeur, even as they were unable to achieve a practical victory over Martinez and his machinations, and even as the military justice system would betray them in falling to punish their killer. Phillip and Lou may not have died upon the battlefield, but their unconventional heroism speaks to me and others even in death. They remind me that there is such a thing as spiritual justice. It is my aim to help deliver it.

I shall soon be forming a justice advocacy institute that I will name in honor of my late husband. The Phillip T. Esposito Foundation for Justice will be dedicated to addressing the failures that led to my husband and Lieutenant Allen's murder, the acquittal of their killer, and the larger implication of these acts and failures upon our Armed Forces and system of justice. Phillip and Lou were horrifically failed—both in life and in death—and these failure reveal defects in our Armed Forces and system of justice too great to ignore.

At night, before she goes to sleep, our daughter often struggles with the reality of Phillip's death. She asks why she cannot see her father, and why he is unable to come back to hold her and love her as he would have had he lived. As her mother, our daughter's suffering is deeply painful to me.

And yet, our daughter and I have hope. The last word on my life will not be said by Alberto Martinez or the members of the jury that acquitted a murderer. Our daughter will thrive and be the living refutation of the evil loosed upon her father. And I will not be deterred in my pursuit of justice, or happiness.

Friday, November 12, 2010

My position on the Purple Heart for Captain Phillip Esposito

There is a grassroots effort afoot that seeks to award the Purple Heart to my late husband, Army Captain Phillip T. Esposito, for his death by murder at the hands of Alberto Martinez. This effort seeks to expand the criteria for the Purple Heart to include the criminal killing of a member of the armed forces by a fellow service member. While ostensibly aimed at honoring the memory of my late husband, I believe that this effort confuses the concerns that surround Phillip's murder by introducing an unrelated side issue. I do not condone or support it.

The specific category that these advocates seek to create in their expanded criteria for the Purple Heart is that of an "unconventional enemy." Yet Alberto Martinez, the soldier who killed my husband, is not an "unconventional enemy;" he is a cold-blooded, premeditated murderer and he needs to be identified as such. Changing the Purple Heart from a mark of wounds and death from combat action with a foreign enemy to a mark of homicide does nothing to address who Martinez is and the conditions that he exploited in order to kill.

Lest we forget, my late husband's death was needless and preventable. Had soldiers in Phillip's unit enforced well-established principles of military discipline, Martinez's rage would have been checked long before his actions rose to murder. Further insult came when military leaders administered a defective court-martial, resulting in Martinez's acquittal. But for a trial where biased jurors were allowed to sit in judgment, where key evidence was excluded because of professional incompetence, and where a guilty plea was rejected by military commanders without so much as informing me of its existence, Alberto Martinez would be behind bars or facing lethal injection, rather than enjoying the life of freedom that he lives today.

None of these failures are corrected by awarding my late husband the Purple Heart. The Purple Heart is utterly meaningless in this context. What would I do with it? What would our young daughter do with it? Could the Purple Heart even begin to make up for all that we have been put though as a result of Phillip's savage murder and the unacceptable acquittal of his killer?

The answer is, of course, no. Even in the unlikely event that the criterion for receipt of the Purple Heart is expanded to include Phillip's murder, I would refuse the award. The leaders responsible for my husband's death and for the acquittal of his killer do not atone for their failures by awarding Phillip a posthumous medal. They atone for their errors by righting the wrongs that led to Phillip's murder and insuring that no other American family has to suffer as our daughter and I have.

The most serious failure of the Army is not that it failed to award my husband the Purple Heart, but that it allowed him to be murdered, failed to punish those responsible, and then failed to learn the needed lessons from this tragedy. I remain committed to correcting these injustices. I thank those who continue to stand with me.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A letter to my husband on Veterans Day

Dear Phillip,

It is Veterans Day and I honor your incredible life. Madeline asks me if you knew that you would die when you went to Iraq. I reassure her that neither you nor your family could foresee that you would never come home. Alberto Martinez viciously took your life, but he couldn’t take your spirit. Just as Madeline’s picture was standing after the explosion, she continues to be the antithesis of everything wrong in this world. Madeline is a bubbly and vivacious seven-year-old with a bottomless supply of energy and enthusiasm for life. And in spite of the egregious injustice she has been forced to endure, I assure you that she will live, love and grow up to do amazing things and defy this evil. We have met an amazing man named Nick who supports and loves us. Nick and I will not let the world forget that justice has not been served. We are working to get the Army to address the problems that led to your murder and the acquittal of your killer while insulating Madeline from the battle. Please give us the strength and grace to carry out this mission.



Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Blame the Widow

A self-described friend of Major General Joseph Taluto, a retired Army First Sergeant and milblogger who calls himself "Bouhammer" speaks up on his blog in support of his buddy:

Right after the [not-guilty] verdict was passed down on Martinez, the widow of CPT Esposito lashed out in anger and demanded an investigation into MG Taluto saying he was at fault and that because of his leadership at the Division level, her husband was killed by one of his own soldiers. Now anyone that knows military ranks and levels of leadership know that blaming the Division Commander is like blaming the President for something that a TSA agent does at an airport. Those two positions (Division Commander and Company Commander) are so far apart and disconnected, it isn’t even funny. It is asinine, idiotic and downright stupid to hold a CG accountable for something like a fragging within a company.

However Mrs. Esposito, out of an act of desperation and anger to hold someone accountable went after MG Taluto. Because of her failure to understand the Army rank systems, her frustration with the Army not doing its job on the prosecution, and her position as the poor widow she got and maintained attention on the matter long enough to stall the confirmation of MG Taluto for the NG Director position and his 3rd star. [Emphasis mine]
Bouhammer leaves out my weariness from having to suffer fools such as he, but goes on with his sundry claims that America has been denied a dear leader and other such chest-pounding puffery.

One almost has to admire how Bouhammer strings together his narrative. Leaving aside his temporal errors which show that he has no real knowledge of the case and looking only at his root argument, Bouhammer's position is little more than "hysterical widow has bad day in court, takes it out upon the poor undeserving." If only . . .

Albeit inadvertently, Bouhammer does nevertheless reveal the mindset of those for whom it impossible to conceive how military discipline was allowed to slip within the 42nd Infantry Division and how the responsibility for that decline ultimately rests with its division commander. The 42nd Infantry Division was allowed to descend to the point where a staff non-commissioned officer could issue literally hundreds of threats and gestures of contempt against his commander in front of officers up to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and non-commissioned officers up to the rank of Sergeant Major and suffer nothing for it. For Bouhammer and those who agree with him, Article 89 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice must be no more than a mere suggestion and the role of a general officer in ensuring that those entrusted to his command uphold well-established principles of military discipline, well, that's just "asinine, idiotic and downright stupid."

Of course, my family and I are forced to endure the blowback from such stupidity every day. Such the pity that I can't make Bouhammer walk a mile in our shoes.

Blaming the Victim

This morning, an anonymous visitor to my blog left the following comment:

Its sad that you feel that its everybody else that is to blame for your husband's death. Your husband was in charge of the company and was in charge of SSG Martinez. If he felt threatened and did nothing about it, he is the one at fault. I am sorry for what happened to him and feel sorry for your baby growing up without a father. Stop putting blame on someone else. Your letter did nothing to stop or slow down the process MG Taluto's nomination nor did you have anything to do with his retirement. Move on with your life and find a new outlet for your anger and do something that will make you happy.
This comment is obviously factually wrong and the individual who wrote it is beneath contempt, but as a specimen of a phenomena I first observed during the court martial of my husband's murderer, I find it illustrative. During Alberto Martinez's court martial, his lawyers argued that my late husband Phillip was essentially to blame for his own murder. In reality, of course, Phillip never saw it coming. Phillip never knew that Alberto Martinez was issuing death threats behind his back because the soldiers who heard Martinez issue these threats, to include field-grad officers and staff NCO's, never told Phillip about it.

In action, these soldiers proved more loyal to Martinez then to their oaths to uphold the laws that govern the armed forces--laws that demand accountability for such gestures of contempt. That these individuals were never held to account for their failures is a grave injustice and one that has yet to be properly addressed. In this regard, holding General Taluto to account for his failures is but the tip of the iceberg.

I also find it illustrative that the anonymous visitor tells me that I need to "find a new outlet for [my] anger." It must somehow serve those who seek to preserve the status quo to dismiss my arguments as those of a hysterical widow. I hope that they continue along these lines; such individuals will continue to underestimate me and in the end, they will make my task of fighting to protect the lives of our soldiers all the easier.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Saturday coverage of General Taluto's withdrawal

Here is another story on Major General Taluto's withdrawal that appeared today.

The Journal News
Widow applauds general's retirement

I think this part of Hema Easley's coverage is noteworthy:

Eric Durr, director of public affairs for the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs, said Taluto had planned to retire in 2009 but agreed to head the National Guard at the urging of members of the military. As the confirmation process dragged on, the general decided to retire, Durr said.

Taluto's confirmation has been delayed for eight months, but Durr said that was not unusual.

"It's Washington," he said. "There are 200 nominations waiting that have not been acted upon."

Sure. The withdrawal of General Taluto's nomination is nothing more than the routine course of affairs and the investigation of my allegations against Taluto had nothing to do with his retirement.

And let us remember, this is the very same Eric Durr who said the following in a radio report broadcast on North Country Public Radio last spring. Speaking of the hundreds of often graphic death threats my husband received from Alberto Martinez prior to my husband's murder, Durr argued:

"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 though our day-to-day life it is never that crystal clear [emphasis added]."
What I think is wonderfully clear is that but for such an attitude, my husband and Louis Allen would be alive. Worse, had the Army learned from my husband and Louis Allen's murder, the victims of the massacre at Fort Hood would also be alive.

Friday, January 29, 2010

News Coverage of General Taluto's Withdrawal and Retirement

Here is some of today's media coverage of Major General Taluto's withdrawal and retirement.

North Country Public Radio
Maj. Gen. Taluto from Washington County drops bid to lead Army National Guard
[link] [audio]

Albany Times Union
Did Army widow help end career?
General quits bid for job after woman blames Iraq killings on negligence

The Record (Troy, NY)
Gen. Taluto quits nomination, retires

The Journal News
Esposito widow applauds general's withdrawal from top National Guard job

The Army Times
Nominee to lead Guard withdraws his name

The Associated Press Wire (via the New York Times)
Nominee to Lead National Guard Withdraws His Name

My letter to the Deputy Secretary of Defense on Taluto

Note: the letter below was sent in June 2009 as part of my opposition to Major General Joseph Taluto's appointment to serve as Director of the National Guard. I include it here so that it may be part of the public record.

* * * *

June 8th, 2009

The Honorable William J. Lynn III
Deputy Secretary of Defense
The Department of Defense
The Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1010

CC: Senator Carl Levin, Chairman, Senate Committee on Armed Services
Senator John McCain, Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Armed Services
Senator James Webb, Member, Senate Committee on Armed Services
Mr. Gordon Peterson, Legislative Asst. to Sen. Webb

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

Dear Deputy Secretary Lynn:

I have recently learned that Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services Senator Carl Levin and ranking member Senator John McCain have contacted you asking that you investigate Major General Joseph Taluto's fitness to be appointed as Director of the National Guard. I wish to communicate to you my steadfast opposition to this appointment. Based upon his actions surrounding the murder of my husband, Captain Phillip Esposito in Iraq in 2005, I hold that Major General Taluto is utterly unsuited to hold this position of great trust. My reasoning is as follows:

In 2005, Major 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.


On the evening of June 7th, 2005, Army Captain Phillip Esposito and 1st Lieutenant Louis Allen were murdered in Tikrit, Iraq by a solider believed by military prosecutors to be Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez.

CPT Esposito, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 42nd Infantry, was set to relieve SSG Martinez of his position as the enlisted chief of his unit's supply section and replace him with 1LT Allen due to SSG Martinez's alleged role in the disappearance of over $980,000 worth of government property assigned to his care and allegations that SSG Martinez had stolen government property for his personal use. Despite the severity of these allegations, over five months passed before CPT Esposito was given authorization to relieve SSG Martinez of his duties. Despite his requests, at no time was CPT Esposito allowed by his superiors to have SSG Martinez arrested or otherwise cordoned for his alleged actions.

Trial records and sworn statements reveal that prior to his death, CPT Esposito was the recipient of literally hundreds of threats against his life made by SSG Martinez. These threats, observed by both officers and enlisted soldiers of the 42nd Infantry and known throughout the chain of command, were left unchallenged and unpunished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice which proscribes such gestures of contempt.

After the murder of CPT Esposito and 1LT Allen, critical mistakes were made in the processing of the crime scene and the questioning of the accused murderer and these mistakes contributed greatly to the acquittal of SSG Martinez by a military court-martial in 2008. First, the crime scene was not properly secured and amazingly, even cleaned prior to the arrival of investigators. Second, and more importantly, Criminal Investigation Division agents performed a flawed interrogation of SSG Martinez that led his statement to be excluded from his trial on constitutional grounds.


A military unit is like few other social institutions; as a body empowered to use deadly force, its success is predicated upon its members subordinating themselves to the laws enacted by Congress that govern the mission and conduct of the armed forces. If proper discipline is maintained, soldiers face the rigors of the battlefield supported by an institution that is both fair and just, yet if proper discipline is not maintained, soldiers are left to be victims of whim, avarice and caprice—and risk military defeat.

Contrary to the claims made in the sundry accommodations it received for its performance in Iraq, the 42nd Infantry suffered from a deeply defective leadership culture. In the case of CPT Esposito and 1LT Allen, repeated and wanton violations of Article 89 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice led to an environment where a recalcitrant with a pattern of vicious contempt for his commander was left unchecked and ultimately free to express his well-known rage to deadly effect.

Concrete evidence of this inexcusable pattern of contempt was revealed at the trial of the accused murderer; there, witness testimony and sworn statements showed that both senior commissioned and non-commissioned officers of the 42nd Infantry had witnessed SSG Martinez issue his threats firsthand up to ten months before he committed his attack against CPT Esposito and 1LT Allen . Yet appallingly, at no time either before or after the murders were any of these individuals sanctioned in any way for their failure to uphold the Army's standards.

And thus by failing to instill a properly disciplined military culture across his division, Major General Taluto bears responsibility for the needless deaths of CPT Esposito and 1LT Allen. At root, Major General Taluto's culpability lies in his negligent inaction: had 42nd Infantry been disciplined, had its officers and soldiers been pressed to uphold the Uniform Code of Military Justice as their sworn oaths mandated, SSG Martinez would have been held to account for his actions long before these actions rose to the level of premeditated double murder.

Furthermore, 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.

Astonishingly, Major General Taluto personally acknowledged as much to me at a Memorial Day commemoration that we both attended in 2007. There I asked Major General Taluto if he had been aware that 1LT Allen had been brought especially to Iraq to relieve SSG Martinez of his responsibilities in supply. Major General Taluto's response was both exact and concise: "Phillip [Esposito's] job was on the base. My job was off the base."

In reality, Major General Taluto's job was both on and off his division's base. E-mails and sworn statements submitted into evidence in the trial of SSG Martinez reveal that commanders up to Major General Taluto's Chief of Staff were personally aware of the problems faced by my late husband. SSG Daniel Tobin, a solider with the Staff Judge Advocate of the 42nd Infantry freely admitted in court that he observed SSG Martinez's vitriol and contempt and stated that he regretted that he failed to enforced Article 89 against Martinez. Even Major General Taluto's own son had heard SSG Martinez issue death threats and hundreds of thousands of dollars of government property (to include sensitive message encryption gear) was missing and presumed lost or stolen. Yet in the face of these wanton violations of well-established standards of military discipline, we are asked to simply accept that Major General Taluto's legitimate focus rested elsewhere.

In fact, Major General Taluto's public spokesman, Mr. Eric Durr, Director of Public Affairs for the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs has already begun to spin as much in a public effort to refute my arguments against the nomination of the general. In National Public Radio's May 29th, 2009 coverage of my opposition to Major General Taluto, Mr. Durr stated:

"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."

Mr. Durr continues:

"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 though 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 every article demands fidelity. That the soldiers 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.


For Major General Taluto to be confirmed as Director of the National Guard, one must maintain that he is in no way accountable for the deaths of my husband and 1LT Allen and that the act of murder that ended these officers' lives was a singular aberration and not part of a larger failure to enforce military discipline. The evidence speaks plainly to another, more honest conclusion however: the soldiers and officers of the 42nd Infantry had ample opportunity to prevent this tragedy, yet they failed to even try. But for a command culture where brazen infractions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice were tolerated, two soldiers would be alive today, two women would have their husbands and five children would have their fathers. As commander of the 42nd Infantry, Major General Taluto bears ultimate responsibility for this defective and ultimately deadly leadership culture.

Furthermore, there has been no accountability on the part of the Army for the causes that led to this needless tragedy. To date, not a single soldier 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 1LT Allen four years ago.

Again, every finger points to Major General Taluto as the conductor of this farce. As division commander, Major General Taluto had every mandate to insure that the dereliction of duty by those under his command would not go unpunished. And yet again, we witness the same pattern: where justice demands action on the part of Major General Taluto, there is only evasion and inaction.

I submit this letter to you in the hope that justice will finally be served. Both my husband and 1Lt Allen deeply loved the Army and each man gave his life in faithful service to it. I believe that we must be equal to their valor and that the only way to achieve this is to conduct an honest and frank examination of the conditions that led to their needless deaths. The nomination of Major General Taluto to a role of great trust presents us with such an opportunity. I thus steadfastly oppose the nomination of this officer for the position that he has been selected to fulfill and I request that my arguments be added to the record of any investigation of his suitability for command.


Mrs. Siobhan Esposito

Fragging Widow Applauds General's Withdrawal to Serve as Director of the Army National Guard

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Alexandria, VA— Siobhan Esposito, the widow of Army Captain Phillip Esposito who was murdered alongside 1st Lieutenant Louis Allen in Iraq in 2005 applauds Major General Joseph Taluto's unprecedented decision yesterday to ask for the withdrawal of his nomination to serve as Director of the National Guard. Taluto's withdrawal is due to an investigation Mrs. Esposito instigated examining Taluto's failed leadership as commander of the 42nd Infantry Division of the New York National Guard—a failure Esposito believes directly contributed to the murder of her late husband and the acquittal of his killer.

"Gen. Taluto's withdrawal and retirement," says Esposito, "made before the special Army report investigating his role in my late husband's death was publicly released is vindication of my call for the Army to properly address the unforgivable lack of military discipline that led to my husband's murder."

"Two American heroes like my husband and Louis Allen cannot be murdered in cold blood without those responsible being held to account for it," says Esposito. "I believe Alberto Martinez murdered my husband, but it was the Army's lax standards that gave him license to do it and then get away with his crime."

"The Army must learn from these needless and preventable deaths, punish those responsible for them and reform its standards or there will be more deaths like my husband's and Lt. Allen's in the future," says Esposito. "Had the Army learned from its mistakes surrounding my husband's murder, I hold that its leaders could have prevented further tragedies such as the horrific massacre of soldiers at Fort Hood."

"I am deeply indebted to Senator Jim Webb for his leadership in support of my quest," says Esposito. "His willingness to support my call for an investigation of General Taluto's conduct helped me and my young daughter secure the first iota of accountability since my husband was murdered in 2005."

"No soldier should ever fear his comrades—least of all when there are clear warning signs that demand action," says Esposito. "My act of justice to the memory of my husband will be to fight for reform until the mistakes that lead to the preventable deaths of our soldiers are corrected."