US response to Petraeus scandal: Only way is ethics

Gen David Petraeus quit over his affair with Paula Broadwell, adding to the scandals facing Leon Panetta
Gen David Petraeus quit over his affair with Paula Broadwell, adding to the scandals facing Leon Panetta
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AMERICA’S defence secretary has ordered a review of ethics training for the US military in the wake of the scandal enveloping General David Petraeus.

Leon Panetta said the military should look for gaps in training as he lamented lapses of judgment by officers that could “erode public confidence in our leadership”.

In the past week Gen Petraeus resigned as CIA director over an affair with biographer Paula Broadwell and General John Allen, who leads the Afghan war effort, was placed under investigation for potentially inappropriate e-mail correspondence with Florida socialite Jill Kelley.

A Pentagon spokesman told reporters travelling with Mr Panetta in Thailand yesterday that development of the defence secretary’s initiative pre-dated the latest scandals.

Lesser-known US military leaders have come under scrutiny recently, with one general demoted by Mr Panetta for wasting public money and another facing accusations of sexually ­assaulting a subordinate.

“The vast majority of our senior officers takes this responsibility [of leadership] seriously and acts in accord with ethics regulations and training,” Mr Panetta said in a memo to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.

“Yet, as has happened recently, when lapses occur, they have the potential to erode public confidence in our leadership …Worse, they can be detrimental to the execution of our mission to defend the American people.”

Mr Panetta, in the memo dated 14 November, called on Gen Dempsey to work with other military leaders to review ethics courses “to determine if they are adequate to address the concerns I have identified”.

He said he would present president Barack Obama with an interim report by 1 December with any recommendations developed by that time. The memo did not list any specific lapses, but on Wednesday Mr Panetta said he was demoting retiring army General William Ward and would seek to recoup $82,000 (£52,000) in expenses from him.

Gen Ward was accused of misconduct in travel, misuse of military aircraft and staff. In one case, Gen Ward took his official plane to Bermuda for an overnight refuelling stop with his wife, investigators found. In another case, Brigadier-General Jeffrey Sinclair, a 27-year army veteran based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, is accused of 26 violations of military law including forcible sodomy, wrongful sexual conduct, possessing pornography while deployed and conduct unbecoming an officer.

The charges stem from allegations of inappropriate behavior towards four female subordinates and a civilian over the past five years. Gen Sinclair is also accused of claiming more than $4,000 (£2,500) in personal travel as military business expenses.

Mr Panetta said he knew of no other military officials beyond Gen Allen drawn into the investigation of Gen Petraeus.

Mr Panetta said in his memo that the Pentagon has strong rules in place setting standards for personal conduct “and prohibit[ing] misuse of taxpayer resources.” He said it was not enough to merely comply with rules, saying military leaders had to exercise sound judgment.

“An action may be legally permissible but neither advisable nor wise,” he wrote. “One thing I do demand is that those who seek to protect this country operate by the highest ethical standards.”