Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, left, leaves a Fort Bragg, N.C. courthouse Jan. 22 with a member of his defense team, Maj. Elizabeth Ramsey. (Andrew Craft / AP)
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FORT BRAGG, N.C. — An expert in Afghan culture testified Wednesday that pornography found on the computer of an Army general then deployed to the Muslim country would be highly offensive to local residents.
Former Defense Intelligence Agency adviser Morwari Zafar made the comments at a pre-trial hearing for Brig. Gen. Jeffery Sinclair. A court-martial for the former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne is set to begin June 25 on charges that include forcible sodomy, indecent acts, violating orders and adultery.
Among the orders Sinclair is accused of violating is a prohibition against U.S. troops in Afghanistan possessing pornography.
Called as a witness by prosecutors, Zafar’s eyes widened when a prosecutor showed her printed photos investigators pulled from Sinclair’s hard drive.
“They would be absolutely offensive to Afghans in general,” said Zafar, who was born in the country and is now earning a doctorate in anthropology. “Pornography is illegal in Afghanistan.”
The military pornography ban, and a similar order barring possessing alcohol, are in place in an attempt to keep soldiers and Marines from offending the socially conservative country where U.S. troops have been stationed since 2001.
Lawyers for Sinclair asked a military judge this week to drop the charge against the general, arguing the military porn ban violates his First Amendment rights to free speech.
On cross-examination, Zafar agreed with defense lawyer Richard Scheff that pornography is available for sale in some Afghan markets and on the Internet, despite its illegal status in the country.
The defense has not provided an explanation for how pornography got on Sinclair’s personal computer. He has not yet entered a plea on any of the charges he faces.
Earlier in the case, military lawyers for Sinclair suggested in court that someone else could have downloaded the images, possibly even the female aide he is charged with assaulting.
This week, new civilian lawyers added to the defense team made the constitutional argument without directly saying the pornography had been stored on the computer by their client. Additionally, there was no evidence any Afghan ever saw the images or had the opportunity to be offended, Scheff said.
Sinclair’s former commander in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. James Huggins, testified Tuesday that he issued the order to “maintain good order and discipline.”
“It is against the stated policy because of the cultural sensitivity of the Afghan people,” Huggins said, adding that if anyone had found the images it would have hurt Sinclair’s effectiveness.
Sinclair was deputy commander in charge of logistics and support for the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan last spring before being relieved during the criminal investigation. He has been on special assignment at Fort Bragg since May 2012.
A 27-year Army veteran and married father of two, Sinclair faces life in prison if convicted on the sexual assault charge.
A female captain who worked for Sinclair on deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq says she carried on a three-year sexual relationship with Sinclair. Adultery is a crime under military law, and the admission could end her career.
She testified at the evidentiary hearing last year that she repeatedly tried to break off the affair but that on two occasions after they had argued he exposed himself and physically forced her to perform oral sex. The woman says the general also threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about their relationship.
The Associated Press does not publicly identify victims of alleged sexual assaults.
Two other female officers who served with Sinclair also testified that they had given the general nude photos at his request.
Sinclair’s legal team alleges that high-ranking Pentagon officials may have pressured subordinates to refer charges against Sinclair as the military struggles to deal with a string of embarrassing sex scandals.