A US Army general twice forced a female captain to engage in oral sex when she tried to break off their illicit sexual relationship during their deployment in Afghanistan in 2011, the woman said in an emotional account on Friday at the general’s military trial.
The junior officer testified that US Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair grabbed her by the back of the neck and sexually assaulted her after she tried to tell him that she was fed up with their adulterous affair.
“He pushed me down,” she said. “I felt like I had no control at all over my own body.”
Her allegations are the basis of a forcible sodomy charge that could send the 51-year-old general to jail for life. Sinclair is also accused of grabbing the woman’s genitalia against her will and of having sex with her in public places, including a parking lot in Germany and military offices in Afghanistan.
The married general denies sexually assaulting the captain 17 years his junior and says the relationship was consensual, although inappropriate by military standards.
The rare court-martial of a high-ranking US military official is unfolding in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, amid a growing debate among US lawmakers over how best to curb sexual assault in the military.
A government prosecutor told a jury panel of five two-star generals that Sinclair abused his rank and power to threaten the captain to stay in a relationship that spanned three years and two war zones.
“It involves a lot of consensual sex,” lead prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Robert Stelle said during opening statements on Friday, but he added that “this is a case where non-consensual sex was used as an instrument of control.”
Defense attorney Ellen Brotman read aloud excerpts from the female captain’s journal that the lawyer said help prove the liaison was based on mutual affection, not coercion, and was consensual from beginning to end.
“You will see that this case is nothing more than a workplace affair,” Brotman told jurors, adding that the captain’s fear was that Sinclair would never leave his wife.
The captain, 34, recalled on the witness stand her first physical encounter with Sinclair, saying he invited her into his private quarters in Iraq in 2009, asked her to take down her hair and caressed her face.
“I had developed a very strong attraction for him,” she said. “On the one hand, I’m thinking how amazing it feels, but on the other hand, this is my brigade commander.”
The relationship went through volatile highs and lows, and the captain said her frustration with and mistrust of the general grew. She said Sinclair once threatened to kill her if she told his wife or anyone else about the affair.
She testified that at a hotel in Arizona, they had sex against her will on a balcony and Sinclair later grabbed her by the throat when she became upset and tried to leave.
After the court session, Sinclair’s attorneys said that account contradicted her previous descriptions of the hotel meeting. In a journal entry, she wrote that they had a huge fight over a change in his travel plans, but that “it was so wonderful to be with him again though.”
The captain testified that she stayed involved with Sinclair because she felt emotionally connected and worried about how ending it would affect her military career.
Sinclair’s attorneys said the testimony provided new fodder ahead of their cross-examination of her tomorrow.
“It was an interesting story we heard,” lead defense attorney Richard Scheff said. “Unfortunately, it’s fiction.”
On Thursday, Sinclair, a one-star general, pleaded guilty to lesser offenses that carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and possible dismissal from the US Army.
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