House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) said yesterday that the Navy's Atlantic Fleet commander "short-circuited" an internal investigation of Vice Adm. Joseph Metcalf's role in the Grenada gun case, creating a "bad odor."
In a speech to be delivered on the House floor today, Aspin renders the first public judgment of the various panels investigating why Metcalf received no more than an administrative "caution" after bringing back captured Soviet-made rifles from Grenada in 1983 despite federal and military prohibitions.
Investigations by the House and Senate military oversight committees and the Pentagon began in February after reports that several lower-ranking soldiers and Marines were ordered jailed for up to three years for smuggling and, in some cases, selling the same types of AK47 rifles as Metcalf brought back.
Aspin, in an advance copy of his speech, criticizes Metcalf's superior officer at the time, Adm. Wesley McDonald, for abruptly stopping the Naval Investigative Service (NIS) from its probe of the case.
McDonald decided to drop the case after Metcalf, who commanded American forces in Grenada during the October 1983 invasion, had acknowledged that he was "totally responsible" for the 24 AK47s that U.S. Customs officials had seized from the plane bringing him and his staff back from Grenada.
"The investigation was thus short-circuited," said Aspin. "While Metcalf had indeed accepted responsibility, NIS never had the opportunity to establish just what Metcalf was responsible for."
Among questions that Aspin says were never answered was Metcalf's motive for bringing home contraband weapons. Although the admiral reportedly has said he wanted the rifles as souvenirs, Aspin asks whether he was "bringing the weapons into the country for resale . . . ? Was he bringing them in to present to others?"
A Navy spokesman said McDonald would have no comment while the Pentagon investigates the case.
Noting that the case "fails to look tamper-proof," Aspin said he plans to propose legislation intended to give NIS greater autonomy to conduct investigations without approval of a commanding officer.