Naval Accountability: an Admiral's Open Letter to Senator Murray

Following are excerpts from an open letter to Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington. Her article for the Monitor, ``Military Chain of Command Needs Accountability,'' in which she argued for reforming the process for reviewing retirement nominations of three- and four-staff officers, appeared Sept. 29.

IN the Senate confirmation process regarding my nomination to retire in grade, at four-star level, you put a hold on my nomination and then spoke against me on the floor of the Senate. You did so in response to letters written by two Navy personnel. One person alleged that I had not taken appropriate action in response to a sexual harassment case. The other person claimed that I had attempted to exert influence from my position as the Commander in Chief of the US Atlantic Fleet over court martial proceedings involving the individual at a base in California.

These allegations were absolutely false. I do not know, and will not speculate on, the motives of the individuals concerned. I will say that I was surprised and saddened by their actions. In any case, the Senate Armed Services Committee investigated every nuance of the allegations. They asked the Department of the Navy about countless aspects - some raised by other Senators such as yourself. The facts are clear. I not only acted responsibly in dealing with the sexual harassment case, I went well beyond what normally would be expected by a commander five levels in the chain above the person involved. Immediately upon learning of the case, I personally dispatched a team to get first hand information. Thereafter, I intervened on behalf of the individual concerned on several occasions to ensure fairness and to extend her on active duty while the case wound its way through the Navy and Defense Department Inspectors General. Regarding the other case, I didn't even ask for information about the court martial proceedings in California, much less try to influence the outcome. That suggestion is so far removed from the truth as to be ludicrous.

Despite the unanimous recommendation of the Senate Armed Services Committee (by a 22-0) margin, you saw fit to make an issue of my nomination. You spoke on the Senate floor and recounted at length the unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations. You noted that the Navy denied the allegations and asserted the Navy who signed out many of the responses to questions, could not be depended on to provide full and accurate answers. That assertion was nonsense. All the information you or any other Senator needed was available in the Armed Services Committee. It might have taken some effort on your part, and your staff's, to read it all, but it was there.

DESPITE the reams of data clearly proving the allegations groundless, you voted against my confirmation, along with five other Senators, most notably Barbara Boxer of California, who also spoke on the floor of the Senate. Many people have told me that a Senate vote of 92 to 6 on my confirmation to retire in grade represents an overwhelming vindication. Maybe so, but I consider the six dissenting votes to be an injustice that should not be allowed to stand without comment.

You have commented on the need to hold out senior officers accountable. You should be aware that the fundamental code of our professional and personal lives is just that - accountability. We don't duck it, we embrace it. I suggest that a US Senator has the same code, and that in the case of your actions during my confirmation, you should also be held accountable. You caused great anguish for my family and upset plans for both myself and my relief. You called in to question the confirmation process, said you hadn't received good answers, and voted against my confirmation. In short, you pursued an agenda that did not fit the facts. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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