Witnesses: General Opposed Hospital Abuse Probe

Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, commander of U.S. Army North (Fifth Army).

WASHINGTON -- The American general who led NATO's training mission in Afghanistan opposed an inspector general's investigation into "Auschwitz-like conditions" and corruption at the main Afghan army military hospital, two retired U.S. military officers are telling Congress.

The retired officers, in testimony prepared for a House hearing Tuesday, said Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV admonished subordinates for contacting the Defense Department's inspector general about Dawood National Military Hospital.

Caldwell is now head of the Army North command and senior commander of Fort Sam Houston in Texas. North Command spokesman Col. Wayne Shanks said, "I am sure that Lt. Gen. Caldwell would welcome the opportunity to respond to any inquiry and I'm confident that once the facts are presented and examined, all allegations will be proven false."

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said Caldwell could be called to testify in a future hearing.

Retired Army Col. Gerald Carozza Jr., who was chief of legal development assisting the Afghan Army and defense ministry, said Caldwell at one point expressed concern that the request was too close to the 2010 congressional elections. But Carozza added that in his view, Caldwell "did not want the request to go to the DOD IG (Department of Defense inspector general) at all."

"The general did not want bad news to leave his command before the election or after the election," Carozza will testify. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the testimony in advance of the hearing.

In September 2011, The Wall Street Journal reported from Kabul that U.S. officers found that patients at the hospital were routinely dying of simple infections and starving to death, while corrupt doctors and nurses demanded bribes for food and basic care.

A memorandum written by another committee witness, retired Air Force Col. Schuyler Geller, confirmed the poor treatment and corruption. Geller, a command surgeon attached to the training mission, agreed in a memo that Caldwell did not want an inspector general's investigation.

Eventually, Caldwell agreed to ask for a limited investigation, but Carozza said his request for the inquiry "would not mention the Auschwitz-like conditions at the National Military Hospital."

It appears the inspector general went further than a limited investigation. Committee officials said the inspector general has now opened two investigations in response to complaints into the conduct of Caldwell and a deputy, now-Maj. Gen. Gary Patton.

One investigation is focused on the Military Whistleblower Protection Act, which prohibits commanders from restricting subordinates' communication with the inspector general. The second complaint involves allegations of reprisal from a complainant who alleged that Caldwell and Patton cited partisan reasons for requesting postponement of an investigation until after the 2010 elections.

Carozza said the committee should be considering a broader issue than conditions at the hospital.

"What this hearing should about are attempts to over-control the message," he will tell the panel. "It is about some leadership that puts the best foot forward and relies on the hard built reputation earned by the military to soften any belief that there is a need to see the other foot."

Carozza said he spoke to three officers who were called to a meeting with Caldwell, and all of them offered the same description of the general's comments.

"Lt. Gen. Caldwell screamed at these three officers, waving his finger at them for trying to bring in the DOD IG," Carozza said. The general was quoted as saying, "There is nothing wrong in this command that we can't fix ourselves."

Carozza said he was in a meeting with Caldwell's deputy, Patton, when Patton "informed the group that Lt. Gen. Caldwell was upset about making the request to DOD IG so close to the election and we were to consider postponing it until afterwards."

"It was a stunning moment for me," Carozza said.

The retired Air Force surgeon, Geller, wrote in a memo that he was at a briefing presented to Caldwell about the need for an investigation.

"LTG Caldwell continued to press for why any external review should be called," Geller said. "It became clear he did not support the investigation."

Geller said Caldwell raised his voice and told one participant, "You should have known better." He said Caldwell then made the same statement to Geller and another participant.

The surgeon added he was not allowed to speak to the media about his memo.

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