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US general's accuser was ambitious soldier too

Monday - 3/10/2014, 4:16am  ET

FILE - In this March 4, 2014 file photo, Brig. Gen. Paul Wilson leaves the courthouse after testifying in pretrial motions in the case of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair at Fort Bragg, N.C. Less than a month before Sinclair's trial on sexual assault charges, the lead prosecutor broke down in tears Tuesday as he told a superior he believed the primary accuser in the case had lied under oath. (AP Photo/The Fayetteville Observer, James Robinson)

JEFFREY COLLINS
Associated Press

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) -- The Army captain who has accused Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair of sexually assaulting her during their three-year relationship was an ambitious soldier with plans to make the military her career, much like the boss she loved and admired.

Stirred by the 9/11 attacks to leave college and join the military, she signed up with the Army, learned the in-demand language of Arabic and showed a laser focus in trying to carve out a reputation as a soldier who could be counted on in the toughest of situations.

Her stunning allegations about Sinclair, a rising star revered by both his superiors as well as those he commanded on the battlefield, has put both of them -- and the three-year affair they both admit to -- under the microscope at a time when Congress and the Pentagon grapple with how to best deal with cases of sexual impropriety within the military ranks.

Her credibility is central to the case. Is she a woman whose affair with a charismatic and approachable superior ended with him forcing her to perform oral sex and threatening to kill her and her family? Or is she, as Sinclair's lawyers have portrayed, a jilted lover who fabricated allegations of sexual assault when Sinclair refused to leave his wife?

She testified Friday as Sinclair's court-martial began. She is expected to return to the stand Monday, where Sinclair's attorneys will likely ask tough, pointed questions and dissect the relationship in extremely graphic detail.

The Associated Press does not generally identify alleged victims of sexual assault. Much of what is known about the 34-year-old captain comes from her own testimony during the various military proceedings.

Her allegations set in motion a rare court-martial against a brigadier general. He is believed to be only the third high-ranking military officer to face court-martial in the past half century -- and the highest ranking officer to be accused of sexual assault.

The charges against Sinclair and his hearing come at a time the Army is under increasing pressure to confront what it has called an epidemic of sexual misconduct. On Thursday, the U.S. Senate rejected a proposal that would end the practice of allowing commanders to decide if serious crimes move forward through military courts.

Sinclair, 51, this past week pleaded guilty to charges he had improper relationships with two other female Army officers and to committing adultery with the captain, a crime in the military. He also admitted to possessing pornography in Afghanistan, a violation of orders for soldiers in the socially conservative Muslim country.

The captain was given immunity in exchange for her testimony.

By pleading guilty to those lesser charges, Sinclair's attorneys hope to boil the case down to a classic "he said, she said," and zero in on whether his accuser is to be trusted and believed. It will be up to a jury made up of five two-star generals to decide if Sinclair at any time forced her to perform sex acts or if everything that happened was consensual.

The captain didn't plan on joining the military. She grew up in Nebraska, playing several sports and was in the midst of going to school out of state at a small liberal arts university. But after the 9/11 attacks, she decided to join the Army. She hungered to help serve her country when it needed her and she was whetted by the chance to see the world.

"September 11th extremely impacted my life as it did many other people and I just felt I could get my degree any time, but it was more important for me to join the Army," she testified in November 2012 at what is known in military court as an Article 32 hearing, similar to a grand jury proceeding.

She found herself in demand after learning Arabic soon after joining the Army. After a few years, she told a superior she wanted to advance and become an officer. He told her she needed to win some Soldier of the Month competitions. She started practicing and won several before being named the soldier of the year in her region in the mid-2000s.

After she completed officer training, she was sent overseas to work for a brigade commanded by then-Col. Jeffrey Sinclair.

The newly commissioned second lieutenant was struck by her new commander and a leadership style that was inspirational.

"Everyone talked about him like a God, that nothing could hurt him, nothing could rattle him," she testified Friday. "He exuded complete control. I had never met anyone with such compete confidence."

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