Ft. BRAGG, N.C. — Speaking in a hoarse voice with a rich Southern drawl, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair pleaded guilty Thursday to several misconduct charges, describing to a military judge an illicit sexual affair with a junior officer and inappropriate sex talk with two other female officers who sent him nude photos of themselves.
Alternatively expansive and evasive, Sinclair walked the judge through sexually charged communications with female officers and said he viewed pornography on a personal computer in Afghanistan. Several times, he openly admitted that his behavior was unbecoming an officer and brought dishonor to the Army.
"Senior officers should not do that," Sinclair said after admitting one encounter with a junior female officer.
The Sinclair continues to deny the most serious charges, which include forcing his mistress to perform oral sex and threatening to kill her and her family if she divulged their affair. His court martial on the remaining counts will continue Friday.
For more than an hour Thursday, the one-star general stared intently at the judge, Col. James L. Pohl, while recounting encounters with women in Afghanistan, Iraq, Germany and the United States. The confessions came after Sinclair entered guilty pleas to adultery, improper relationships with three junior officers, possessing pornography and impeding an investigation of his conduct.
Pohl approved the guilty pleas. Prosecutors later dismissed two relatively minor counts: pressuring a female major to send him nude photos, and engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a civilian woman who was a longtime friend and who also sent him nude photos of herself.
Asked several times by Pohl whether he considered his behavior improper and in violation of military regulations and good order and discipline, the general responded, "Oh, yes, sir" or, simply, "Absolutely, sir."
Sinclair, 51, a former deputy commander of U.S. forces in southern Afghanistan, still faces more serious charges of sexually assaulting his lover, an Army captain, after their three-year affair soured, and threatening her and her family. He also faces charges of sodomy, groping the captain against her will, using demeaning language, engaging in sex in public places and misusing his government credit card.
All but the credit card charges are based on accusations by the 34-year-old captain, who is expected to be among the first government witnesses to testify at the court-martial after opening statements Friday.
If convicted on the remaining charges, Sinclair could face life in prison. For the charges to which he pleaded guilty, he faces penalties of up to 15 years in prison, forfeiture of pay and allowances, and severance from the Army.
A jury panel composed of five two-star generals, all men, will sentence Sinclair for the lesser charges after they reach a verdict on the remaining counts. The panel had been dismissed for the day and was not in the courtroom when Sinclair described his offenses.
Sinclair, wearing a dress blue uniform and polished jump boots, told the judge the consensual affair with the captain, then 29, began shortly after she approached him with an offer to watch a Showtime movie in his personal trailer at a base in southern Afghanistan in March 2009. He said the movie contained "some nudity."
Asked by the judge how their sexual relationship began, the general replied, "She wanted intercourse that night." He said he immediately decided that "I wouldn’t go there."
The judge asked how Sinclair knew the captain wanted to have sex. The general replied in a casual tone, "Probably when she took her top off, sir."
But while describing his pursuit of three other female officers — those relationships did not involve sexual contact — Sinclair often was evasive. He digressed into accounts of extraneous events before the judge asked him directly whether he had pressured two officers to email him nude photos.
The general confessed that he had, and that they had complied. He said he also engaged them in inappropriate email and phone discussions about sex.
His discussions with one officer, a captain, were "too personal; it was in a romantic context," Sinclair said.
Sinclair is married and has two sons. His wife, Rebecca Sinclair, has continued to support him but has not been in court this week.
"It was inappropriate because myself and the captain are exchanging sexually explicit email traffic and nude photographs," he said, referring to another captain, not the accuser.
Sinclair admitted telling a female first lieutenant that he was "smitten with her" and asking her for a date to go horseback riding. That, he said, was improper, and he apologized to her.
Sinclair told the judge he deleted the email account he used to communicate with the civilian woman and a longtime friend, and also deleted nude photos the woman had sent him. He said he wanted to spare her embarrassment once he knew he was under investigation. But he admitted under the judge's prodding that he was also impeding the investigation.
The general also described viewing, but not downloading, pornographic images and photos while serving as a senior commander on a U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan.
After the hearing, Sinclair got into his car and drove home as his lawyer, Richard Scheff, told reporters outside the courthouse that the general welcomed the opportunity to take responsibility for his actions.
"He’s comfortable and happy," Scheff said. "He feels great."
Also Thursday, legislation that would have stripped senior military commanders of their authority to decide whether to prosecute sexual assault charges fell short of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. The Pentagon had campaigned vigorously against the measure.