WASHINGTON — A Missouri senator said Monday that the Defense Department should turn over evidence for its decision not to punish two generals for a $36 million command center at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, built despite objections and then never used. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who sits on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, said the department and a commander who pushed construction of the facility have claimed it was part of a strategic vision for restive Helmand province during the U.S. surge in 2010. But the military has not provided lawmakers the classified documents that back the claim, and auditors have criticized the Army’s own investigation, she said. “My staff has repeatedly requested that DoD provide this evidence to the subcommittee. To date no information has been provided,” McCaskill, the ranking member on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said in a released statement. McCaskill called it a whitewashed Army investigation. The Army said it was looking into the issue but could not immediately respond with a comment late Monday afternoon. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the federal watchdog charged with monitoring waste related to the war there, found in May that the commander in charge of the surge requested that the 64,000-square-foot facility not be built because it was not needed. The Army had requested the money for the facility from Congress in 2010, calling it an urgent need. Another two-star, then-Major General Peter Vangjel, rejected the request to cancel the project because he believed the money approved by Congress should be spent, according to the auditor. “Ultimately, construction of the building was not completed until long after the surge was over, and the building was never used,” SIGAR reported. When it came to light that the new facility would never be used, an Army investigation was called and headed by Maj. Gen. James Richardson. But SIGAR said Richardson’s final report did not address key questions about the project, and his recommendation to spend more money and sent troops to the facility was inconsistent with an ongoing U.S. drawdown, according to the auditor. SIGAR recommended administrative or disciplinary action against Vangjel and Richardson. It also reported that officials tried to “slow roll” and frustrate its investigation. Vangjel disputed the SIGAR findings in May. “The assertion that I made the decision not to cancel the project because I was reluctant to reprogram funds already appropriated by Congress is erroneous,” he wrote to the auditor. Under his leadership, Vangjel said U.S. Army Central routinely cut back projects and saved $8 billion over two years. “In my opinion, the decision not to cancel the [64,000-square-foot] facility was based upon the best information available at the time and was the right decision,” he wrote. “It properly balanced prudent stewardship of taxpayer dollars, ensuring they were spent on the projects for which they were intended, and supported the strategic and operational commander intent.”
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