The U.S. Army will do something this weekend it has done only four other times since the Truman administration — drag a general into a military courtroom to face criminal charges.
James J. Grazioplene, 68, a retired major general from Gainesville, Va., is being court-martialed on charges that he raped a child over a six-year period while he was on active duty in the 1980s, according to Army officials and court documents.
It is extremely rare for senior military officers to face court-martial proceedings. The Air Force has never court-martialed a general. The Navy has court-martialed just one admiral since the end of World War II, although two others have been prosecuted recently in federal court for civilian offenses as part of an epic corruption scandal.
The Army will hold a probable-cause hearing this weekend at Fort Meade, Md., to review evidence against Grazioplene. In April, the service announced in a terse statement that it had charged the retired general with six counts of rape of a minor but disclosed no other details. Army officials have declined to answer questions about the case since then.
Charging documents obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act show that Grazioplene is accused of committing rape on six occasions between 1983 and 1989 while stationed in the United States and Germany.
According to the charging documents, the rapes occurred at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Amberg, Germany; Bindlach, Germany; and Woodbridge, Va.
The identity of the victim was redacted from the records. It is unclear what led the Army to open an investigation into the case three decades later. Under military law, there is no statute of limitations for rape.
Grazioplene entered the Army in 1972 as an armor officer and retired in 2005 after holding a senior post at the Pentagon. His civilian defense attorney, Thomas Pavlinic, said the general would contest the charges. He declined further comment.
Retired officers can be charged with military crimes even after they have left the armed forces, although it is highly unusual.
“It’s almost unheard of,” said Rachel VanLandingham, an associate professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles and a former Air Force judge advocate.
In modern times, the armed forces have usually dealt with generals and admirals suspected of wrongdoing by imposing discipline in private or ending their careers with a minimum of public explanation.
That has gradually changed, however, as the Defense Department has come under pressure from Congress to crack down on sexual assault and harassment in the ranks and to hold perpetrators accountable — even senior brass.
“It’s fair to say that there’s heightened awareness of sexual assault and heightened sensitivity to ensuring a proper investigation is conducted,” VanLandingham said.
In February, for example, the Air Force announced that it had taken the extraordinary step of reducing the rank of a retired four-star general after finding that he had engaged in “inappropriate sexual acts” with a female subordinate while he was on active duty a decade earlier.
The Air Force determined that Gen. Arthur Lichte had an affair with a junior officer and probably coerced her into having sex in 2007 and 2009. He was stripped of two stars and demoted in rank to major general. The Air Force also issued Lichte a reprimand and suggested that he had narrowly dodged a court-martial. Lichte denied wrongdoing.
An unofficial taboo against putting senior military leaders on trial in sex abuse cases was shattered four years ago when the Army prosecuted then-Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair on charges of forcible sodomy and adultery, plus other offenses.
Prosecutors ended up dropping most of the charges and cut a plea deal that spared Sinclair jail time, but only after days of sordid testimony that exposed how the general carried on a volatile years-long affair with a junior officer in four countries and two war zones.
Before that, the last Army general to face court-martial was Brig. Gen. Roger B. Duff, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to making false official statements and wearing unauthorized decorations.
In 1999, Maj. Gen. David R.E. Hale pleaded guilty at court-martial after he was accused of committing adultery with the wives of four subordinates. Before that, no Army general had faced court-martial since 1952, when Maj. Gen. Robert W. Grow, a military attache in Moscow, was suspended and reprimanded on charges of dereliction of duty.