The Wrong General

I put my columnist's at-the-ready outrage on hold over the weekend. But this morning, as I prepared to speed read through the front section of the New York Times, I was drawn against my will to the headline "General Disobeyed Orders to End Affair."

I'd been wondering what that poor general, Gen. Kevin Byrnes, who'd made the front page a few days earlier, could have done to be ruined for life minutes before retirement -- the first four star general to be relieved of his command in recent memory.

I guess we could have guessed, but there it was on page A7: sex had raised its ugly head and the distinguished, brilliant career of Byrnes was gone, poof, just like that. He'd been told to "knock it off," that is an adulterous affair, but continued to make phone calls. That was all it took. Byrnes was separated form his wife in mid-2004 and they are now divorced.

But here's what grabbed my attention. Way down in the piece, we learn that the officer appointed to determined if Byrnes should be court-martialed for a consensual affair is Gen. Dan K. McNeill. The Army has it wrong. If anyone should be court-martialed, it should be Gen. McNeill. Two prisoners were murdered on his watch and he covered it up.

I came to know McNeill when he was just a Lt. Gen. commanding forces in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003, oversaw Bagram prison and then, the polite word is misled, officials about what happened to two innocent prisoners there. He claimed the two died of natural causes. Both were murdered.

McNeill kept stonewalling even after an autopsy showed that there'd been no natural causes in the death of a peasant named Dilawar. Rounded up in a bad sweep of Khost, Dilawar, who had never been away from his parent's home and was innocent of any animosisty towards America, much less violence, was hung from the ceiling of his cell for five days in between bouts of interrogation where he was kicked and beaten so badly the coroner's report said his leg had turned to pulp.

After natural causes became suspect, McNeill claimed Dilawar had died from coronary disease.

After McNeill left Afghanistan, a new inquiry was reopened in Washington (thanks to a New York Times investigation). Low-level soldiers and MP's have been indicted; some are on trial now. But guess what? McNeill was promoted to full general.

And now he sits in judgement of Byrnes. The devil could not have come up with a more twisted, contemptible and sickening turn of events.