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Generals deny trying to stop Afghan hospital probe
Wednesday - 9/12/2012, 2:17pm EDT
By LARRY MARGASAK
WASHINGTON (AP) - Two U.S. generals denied Wednesday that they tried to stop an inspector general's investigation in 2010 into corruption and patient neglect at a U.S.-funded Afghan military hospital.
Lt. Gen. William Caldwell and Maj. Gen. Gary Patton disputed congressional testimony from July, when an active-duty colonel and two retired colonels said Caldwell sought to prevent the probe of the Dawood National Military Hospital. One of the July witnesses referred to "Auschwitz-like" conditions at the facility.
Caldwell said he only wanted a short delay, which amounted to less than two weeks, to inform his superior, Gen. David Petraeus, about the need for an investigation. Caldwell said he also needed time for Petraeus to ask Afghan President Hamid Karzai to remove the Afghan surgeon general, who U.S. officials believed was responsible for corruption and conditions at the hospital.
Caldwell also denied making a statement, cited by the active-duty colonel in July, that the general mentioned the then-upcoming 2010 congressional elections during a meeting where Caldwell said he wanted a delay.
Testifying before the same House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee where the accusations were made, Caldwell denied an accusation from the previous hearing that he indicated, while mentioning the elections, that he was on a first-name basis with President Barack Obama.
When the controversy occurred in the fall of 2010, Caldwell was in charge of the training mission for Afghanistan's army and police; Patton was his deputy. Caldwell currently is head of the Army North Command and senior commander of Fort Sam Houston in Texas. Patton is director of the Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.
Caldwell said he needed time to inform Petraeus, the overall commander of U.S. forces back then and now the CIA director, who would need to contact Karzai about the surgeon general, Ahmad Zia Yaftali.
"I wanted a few more days before I made an official request to move forward," Caldwell testified.
The investigation eventually did get approved and Yaftali was removed.
Kenneth Moorefield, the Pentagon's deputy inspector general for special plans and operations, testified that the investigation never was delayed, because investigators arrived in Afghanistan quickly after the request went through.
At the July hearing, Army Col. Mark Fassl, who was inspector general for the training command, made the allegations against Caldwell and said he was shocked when the general brought up the 2010 congressional elections. He quoted Caldwell as asking: "How could we ... make this request with elections coming? He calls me Bill."
Fassl said he believed this was a reference to the general's relationship with the president.
Caldwell said that in discussions of the proposed investigation, "At no time ... did I ever make that statement."
He said that at an earlier time, when he was briefing the president about Afghanistan, Obama did call him by his nickname, and Caldwell told his staff he was impressed with that. Caldwell said that briefing had no connection to problems at the hospital or the inspector general's investigation.
The chairman of the House subcommittee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, displayed pictures of neglected Afghan patients that he had shown at the first hearing. He asked several times how Caldwell could have failed to investigate these conditions.
"From July to November 2010, senior U.S. military officers reported these issues up their chain of command," Chaffetz said. "This included briefings to Gen. David Petraeus, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, and Maj. Gen. Gary Patton.
"Despite all of the evidence, there appeared to be a hesitation to investigate."
Caldwell disputed Chaffetz' comments. He said the warnings were about corruption, not patient neglect.
"We knew there were challenges with patient care," Caldwell said. But he said patient neglect was brought to his attention for the first time in the fall of 2010. Caldwell added that until then, he believed the main problems at the hospital involved corruption, including the disappearance of millions of dollars of pharmaceuticals.
"None of us saw the patient neglect that we saw in images that were on the screen" at the hearing, Caldwell insisted.
Patton testified, "I never directed subordinates, nor received orders from superiors that the visit from the inspector general be delayed for political reasons." He recalled that the subject of the 2010 elections came up briefly during discussions, but insisted that the subject had "no relationship" to the hospital investigation.
Moorefield, the deputy inspector general, added, "No, we never received any indication there was any attempt ... to delay our investigation ... or turn it off."
Follow Larry Margasak on Twitter at _ http://twitter.com/LarryMargasak
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)