Make war, not love

A Times Editorial
Published August 12, 2005

At a time of war and in a period of military scandals at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. Army has chosen to draw a peculiar line with officer conduct. It has relieved Kevin Byrnes, a four-star general with 36 years of distinguished service, of command just three months short of retirement for having sex.

Byrnes, 55, had a consensual sexual relationship with a woman who did not work in his command or in any capacity for the military or the federal government, according to his attorney, Lt. Col. Dave Robertson. Further, Byrnes has been separated from his wife since May 2004, and was granted a divorce on Monday - the same day he was relieved of command. But a senior Army official told Reuters the issue was clear-cut: "The Uniform Code of Military Justice specifically prohibits adultery. Period."

That's true, and presumably the Army has evidence that Byrnes was engaged in an intimate relationship while still married to his wife. But is this really the military's highest priority? If the case truly involves no coercion, no sexual harassment and no involvement with anyone in Byrnes' command, why would the Army throw the book at him? His record, reaching back to the Vietnam War, is virtually spotless.

The contrast with the misconduct surrounding the Abu Ghraib prison is impossible to ignore. Although investigations revealed that the prisoner abuses and violations of the Geneva Conventions were the product of policies emanating from the highest levels of the military, only Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski was ever punished. The roles of other high-ranking officers received barely a notice.

Consider Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, who was the senior commander in Iraq while the Abu Ghraib abuses took place. In a September 2003 memo, he wrote to approve interrogations that used dogs as a means to "exploit Arab fear of dogs." Yet Sanchez is reportedly being considered for a promotion - to four-star general. Byrnes, on the other hand, has lost his command and could lose more.

Morally speaking, this is obscene.