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Army general, accused of sexual assault by senior adviser, retired quietly with demotion

Maj. Gen. Ralph O. Baker, shown here as a one-star officer in Iraq in 2010, was fired from his position as the commander of the U.S. military’s counterterrorism task force based in Djibouti after a woman alleged that he sexually assaulted her. (Photo by Cpl. Daniel Eddy)

A two-star Army general who was fired from his job in Djibouti last year after allegedly groping a female adviser was allowed to retire quietly with a demotion in rank at the same time that a sexual assault case against another Army general received international attention, according to Army officials and military documents.

Then-Maj. Gen. Ralph O. Baker, the former commander of the U.S. military’s counter-terrorism task force for the Horn of Africa, was investigated by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command on allegations of sexual assault, according to the newly released documents. Baker retired in September 2013 as a one-star general, he said Wednesday.

An Army spokesman said Wednesday that Baker was given an administrative punishment at the time of the incident as well as a letter of reprimand — usually a career-ending punishment. Army Secretary John McHugh ordered that Baker be retired with the demotion to brigadier general because it was found he did not serve satisfactorily as a two-star general, the spokesman said. Baker also was fined an undisclosed amount.

Details of the case were disclosed in documents obtained by The Washington Post through the Freedom of Information Act. The move was made by senior Army leaders as the Pentagon grappled with a string of incidents in which senior officers were accused of misconduct and a sexual assault epidemic in the military that continues to receive tough scrutiny from lawmakers.

Baker denied in an interview that he assaulted anyone, but expressed regret for drinking too much the night in question. Several who saw the general that night later told investigators that he was drunk.

“I own the fact that I got intoxicated that night at a social event, and I regret it,” Baker said. “It was irresponsible of me. I can understand that in the position of responsibility I had, something had to be done about it.”

Baker, who served 31 years, retired as another senior Army officer, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, faced court-martial for alleged forcible sodomy, adultery and other charges in a case that embarrassed the service. He was later acquitted of the assault charges, but pleaded guilty in March to having a three-year affair with a subordinate officer and was forced to retire as a lieutenant colonel.

U.S. Africa Command disclosed last year that Baker was fired March 28, 2013, by Army Gen. Carter Ham, then the top U.S. commander for Africa, because of a “loss of confidence in his ability to lead.”

Two Army officials told The Post at the time that Baker was removed after allegedly groping a woman, but did not reveal the severity of the allegations or that the Army was investigating the general for sexual assault. The Army also never disclosed the circumstances of Baker’s retirement.

The alleged victim, a female senior civilian policy adviser, said that on July 22, 2012, she was part of a contingent of Americans who traveled to a private party in central Djibouti that included the U.S. ambassador to that country at the time, Geeta Pasi, and a one-star French general, according to military documents.

The woman said that Baker drank wine heavily, and pushed his hand between her legs afterward while they were sitting in the back seat of a sport utility vehicle on the way back to Camp Lemonnier, the task force’s massive headquarters. She resisted his advances, but was too embarrassed to mention what was happening to a U.S. soldier and a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent who were sitting in the front seats, she said.

“I grabbed his hand and held it on the seat to try to prevent him from putting his hand deeper between my legs,” she told an investigating agent in a sworn statement. “He responded by smiling at me and saying, ‘Cat got your tongue?’ I was appalled about what he was doing to me and did not know what to say.”

The woman, who is not identified by name in the documents, reported the incident to the Defense Department inspector general on Jan. 17, 2013, about nine weeks before Baker was removed from his position. His firing was one of the last acts by Ham as the four-star commander of U.S. Africa Command before he retired in April 2013. An adviser for Ham told The Post that he wished to let his decision speak for itself.

Soldiers serving under Baker told investigators that he had a history of drinking heavily at off-base events and that they would “keep an eye out for him” when it happened, according to the documents. An Army sergeant added that on one occasion at Camp Lemonnier, a Navy officer, a lieutenant, asked soldiers to go into town and buy alcohol for the general. When they refused, the Navy officer went into town to get alcohol for Baker himself, the soldier told investigators.

Baker denied he drank to excess. No senior members of his command corroborated that he did so when interviewed, he added.

Army documents show the alleged victim discussed the night in question with an Air Force colonel who served as a chaplain in Djibouti, and later gave him permission to discuss it with authorities. The chaplain told investigators in a Feb. 21, 2013, interview that she had come to him “very emotional and upset” after the alleged incident and conveyed essentially the same story to him that she later reported to authorities.

The two men in the front seat of the sport utility vehicle during the alleged assault told investigators they did not remember any kind of attack occurring. But the soldier, an enlisted specialist, said that he remembered Baker asking “What, does that cat have your tongue?” The soldier said he did not know any context for the remark.

Julie Tate contributed to this report.