Friday, January 29, 2010

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.

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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

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