Monday, May 30, 2005
Army General Demoted, Discharged As Punishment For Speaking Out On Iraq
John Riggs spent 39 years in the Army, earning a Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery during the Vietnam War and working his way up to become a three-star general entrusted with creating a high-tech Army for the 21st century. But on a spring day last year, Riggs was told by senior Army officials that he would be retired at a reduced rank, losing one of his stars because of infractions considered so minor that they were not placed in his official record. He was given 24 hours to leave the Army. He had no parade in review, no rousing martial music, no speeches or official proclamations praising his decades in uniform, the trappings that normally herald a high-level military retirement. Instead, Riggs went to a basement room at Fort Myer, Va., and signed some mandatory forms. Then a young sergeant mechanically presented him with a flag and a form letter of thanks from President Bush. "That's the coldest way in the world to leave," Riggs, 58, said in a drawl that betrays his rural roots in southeast Missouri. "It's like being buried and no one attends your funeral." So what cost Riggs his star? His Pentagon superiors said he allowed outside contractors to perform work they were not supposed to do, creating "an adverse command climate." But some of the general's supporters believe the motivation behind his demotion was politics. Riggs was blunt and outspoken on a number of issues and publicly contradicted Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld by arguing that the Army was overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan and needed more troops. "They all went bat s- - when that happened," recalled retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner, a one-time Pentagon adviser who ran reconstruction efforts in Iraq in the spring of 2003. "The military part of [the defense secretary's office] has been politicized. If [officers] disagree, they are ostracized and their reputations are ruined." Little-Used Punishment A senior officer's loss of a star is a punishment seldom used, and then usually for the most serious offenses, such as dereliction of duty or command failures, adultery or misuse of government funds or equipment. Over the past several decades, generals and admirals faced with far more serious official findings - scandals at the Navy's Tailhook Convention, the Air Force Academy and Abu Ghraib prison, for example - have continued in their careers or retired with no loss of rank.Riggs follows fellow Army generals Thomas White and Eric Shinseki into the Nacht und Nebel set aside by BushCo for military officers who dared to dissent on Iraq. Don't expect to see this on TV any time soon.
More blogs about politics.