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Army struggles with 30-year-old rape allegations against retired general

Retired Maj. Gen. James J. Grazioplene, seen here as a one-star general, faces trial on multiple charges. (U.S. Army)

A military court is grappling with the complications of trying a retired Army general on multiple rape charges decades after the alleged assaults were said to have occurred.

Retired Maj. Gen. James J. Grazioplene appeared Tuesday at Fort Belvoir, Va., for his first hearing following an Army general’s decision last month to send the case to a court-martial. Grazioplene, 68, is accused of repeatedly raping a young girl between 1983 and 1989.

The allegations have put the Army in highly unusual territory. The pending trial will mark one of only a few cases since World War II in which a general officer has been prosecuted in open court.

Grazioplene was a major serving at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas when the alleged rapes began, according to court documents. He has not entered a plea.

Previous coverage: In a rare spectacle, the Army weighs court-martialing a retired general

Among the issues the Army faces is how to apply the statute of limitations on the alleged crimes and how to address a lack of documentation. The accusations first came to the Army’s attention in 2015, after the alleged victim, now 46, reported them and sat for an interview with investigators.

The Washington Post does not identify the victims of alleged sexual assaults.

Army Col. Daniel Brookhart, a military judge, heard arguments Tuesday about whether all six counts of rape brought by the Army should be considered given the time that has elapsed.

Congress imposed a new statute of limitations on rape charges in the military in November 1986, saying that any offense punishable by death — including rape — “may be tried and punished at any time without limitation.” The allegations against Grazioplene straddle the passage of that legislation.

Lt. Col. Carol Brewer, an Army prosecutor, argued that all six counts are relevant and that it was Congress’s intent to include crimes that occurred both before and after the passage of the legislation. An attorney for Grazioplene, Maj. Kevin Adams, said lawmakers’ intent isn’t clear.

Brookhart did not indicate how he will rule on the issue, but he sounded skeptical that the court can look at allegations prior to 1986.

“We’re stuck with what Congress did, and what Congress did was say ‘on or after,’ ” Brookhart said, referring to the date the law was passed.

Grazioplene’s defense also argued that, given the amount of time that has passed, it will be difficult to hold a fair trial. Brookhart did not signal agreement, but he did approve having a defense investigator spend four weeks searching for potential documents or witnesses.

As a retired officer, Grazioplene remains subject to the rules guiding military law, known as the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It is not clear why the Army elected to prosecute the case, rather than forward it to a civilian court, but at least some of the alleged attacks occurred on military installations.

The alleged victim appeared in court Tuesday, sitting behind the prosecution. She has testified previously that she has vague memories of being touched inappropriately as a young child in the 1970s, and that the abuse graduated to include rape and occurred several times per week as she got older, according to court documents.

The alleged victim also has testified that Grazioplene had a volcanic temper that made it difficult for her to speak up and stop him. She began telling others about the alleged abuse after she went to college, she said.

Grazioplene sat in court Tuesday in a dark suit, close-cropped white hair and glasses, and occasionally took notes. He rolled a small briefcase on wheels out of the courthouse after the proceedings ended for the day. Brookhart said that it has been determined that he will not be wearing a uniform for the trial.

Craig Whitlock contributed to this report.