FORT BRAGG, N.C. – An Army captain testified Tuesday that her commanding general initiated a sexual affair during a combat tour in Iraq and threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone.
The woman said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair was extremely controlling, even telling her how much water to drink and when and where she could use the bathroom during a later combat tour in Afghanistan.
She said she repeatedly tried to end the relationship and asked Sinclair, a married man, for a transfer.
On two occasions, she testified the general ended such conversations by exposing himself and physically forcing her to perform oral sex. The Associated Press does not identify victims of alleged sexual assaults.
When a prosecutor asked if Sinclair should have been able to tell that she did not want to participate, the captain responded: “Yes, I was crying.”
The woman testified on the second day of a military hearing at Fort Bragg on whether there was enough evidence to court-martial Sinclair on charges including forcible sodomy, wrongful sexual conduct and engaging in inappropriate relationships.
It is a rare criminal case against a general and the details from the hearing are the first public narrative of the alleged offenses that prosecutors say involved a total of five women: four of them military subordinates and one a civilian.
During the testimony, the woman often broke down in tears as she recounted their three-year relationship. As she spoke, Sinclair repeatedly rolled his eyes, sighed audibly and stared at his former aide from the defense table as she sobbed. She did not look back at him.
The woman said she was honored at first by the attention from Sinclair, who she said was highly regarded. They first had sex in 2008 at a forward operating base in Iraq, she said.
“I was extremely intimidated by him. Everybody in the brigade spoke about him like he was a god,” she said.
The captain testified that she believed Sinclair’s threats to kill her because he had gone through Ranger training, knew how to kill with his hands and had a reputation as being unfazed by violence in battle.
Sinclair was deputy commander in charge of logistics and support for the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan before being abruptly relieved in May during the criminal probe. He has been on special assignment since then at Fort Bragg, the sprawling post that is home to the 82nd Airborne.
Sinclair’s former commanding officer, Maj. Gen. James Huggins, testified Monday that he launched the criminal investigation on March 19 after the captain came to his office at the division’s headquarters in Afghanistan late at night and in tears.
She reported that she had been involved in an affair with Sinclair. Adultery is a crime under the military code of justice and Huggins said the captain understood that making such a report could end her military career. After making her report, her security clearance was suspended and she was relieved of her duties. The captain was also referred for a mental health assessment.
On Tuesday, the captain testified that Sinclair could be cold and demeaning to her and other female officers in the brigade, calling some of the other women degrading and profane names.
She testified she once told him in private he shouldn’t talk about female officers that way, especially when lower-ranking soldiers might overhear him and follow his example.
“He said he was a general and he could say whatever the (expletive) he wanted,” she testified.
But she said he could also be warm and affectionate when the two were alone, acting as her mentor in military matters and promising to leave his wife of 20 years so they could be together.
After becoming so conflicted and depressed about the relationship she wished for her own death, the soldier testified she finally reported the affair and the abuse after finding messages from another woman in the general’s military e-mail account, which she reviewed as part of her work duties.
During their cross examination, defense lawyers for the general worked to paint the captain as a jilted lover seeking revenge, saying that Sinclair had passed a polygraph test during which he denied ever forcing her to have oral sex with him.
A defense lawyer also confronted the captain with explicit text messages in which she referred the general as “Mr. Sexy Pants.” His pet name for her was Panda. The captain also expressed her love and admiration for Sinclair in writing, comparing him in a birthday card to George Washington, a general he greatly admired.
Even testifying against him on the witness stand, with Sinclair potentially facing life in prison if convicted, the captain admitted part of her was still eager to please him.
“In a [expletive]-up way I still love him,” she admitted. “I don’t want him to be mad at me.”