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Army general accused of sex assault wants Panetta email

Jun. 25, 2013 - 05:50PM   |  
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RALEIGH, N.C. — Lawyers representing a U.S. Army general facing sexual assault charges are asking amilitary judge to force prosecutors to turn over any emails related to the case sent or received by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

A court-martial is set to begin next month at Fort Bragg for Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair on charges including forcible sodomy, indecent acts, violating orders and adultery.

In a motion filed Tuesday as part of a pre-trial hearing, lawyers for Sinclair argue top Pentagon brass were receiving regular updates last year on the investigation and may have encouraged subordinates to make an example of Sinclair. They are also seeking any minutes from any meetings about the case attended by Panetta, then the military’s top civilian leader.

It is unlawful in the military justice system for senior commanders to interfere in prosecutorial decisions and Sinclair’s lawyers are seeking to have the case against him dismissed.

Two of Sinclair’s commanders, Gen. Dan Allyn and Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Colt, testified at a hearing earlier this month that there was no such pressure. Both generals testified they relied solely on their best judgment in deciding to charge and prosecute Sinclair.

In a separate motion, meanwhile, Sinclair’s lawyers sought to have some of the general’s own emails suppressed at trial.

Sinclair briefly took the witness stand at the hearing Tuesday to talk about his use of a military computer in his office in Afghanistan, as well as compliance with password policies. It was the first time he has testified in the case.

A female captain who worked for Sinclair testified at an evidentiary hearing last year that she carried on a three-year affair with her married superior. She said that when she tried to end the relationship Sinclair threatened her and on two occasions physically forced her to perform oral sex.

The Associated Press does not publically identify the victims of alleged sexual assaults.

Prosecutors have suggested emails from the government-owned computer will show Sinclair threatened his accuser.

Sinclair testified that he had an expectation that any personal messages sent on the computer would remain private. The general said other members of his staff also used his computer to communicate with friends and family at home, due to limited access to the Internet in the war zone.

The prosecution countered with testimony that anyone who gets a military email account in Afghanistan has to sign a user agreement waiving privacy expectations. Sinclair said he couldn’t recall ever signing such an agreement.

Military judge Col. James Pohl did not immediately rule on the motions. Sinclair’s trial is scheduled to begin July 16.

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