WASHINGTON -- A Pentagon investigation into how a Medal of Honor nomination was “lost” – possibly because of an improper effort to kill the award – is focused on its mishandling by members of the chain of command that included retired Army Gen. David Petraeus and other senior U.S. commanders.
The investigation is being conducted by the Directorate for Investigations of Senior Officials, a division of the Defense Department Office of Inspector General that handles cases involving top military and civilian defense officials.
“Specifically, officials within the Directorate for Investigations of Senior Officials are conducting an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the lost recommendation,” the inspector general’s office wrote in a Sept. 3 letter to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who pressed for the probe.
The review is the latest turn in the convoluted history of the Medal of Honor nomination of former Army Capt. William Swenson, who was recommended for the nation’s highest military decoration for valor for his actions on Sept. 8, 2009, in one of the most extraordinary battles of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The Seattle native is scheduled to receive the medal from President Barack Obama on Oct. 15, nearly four years after he was first nominated and more than a year after his papers reached the White House.
The inspector general’s “investigation is looking at the approval process for Capt. Swenson’s award, specifically how the chain of command mishandled his nomination,” said Joe Kasper, a spokesman for Hunter.
Bridget Serchak, a spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office, declined to comment on the matter, saying she could not discuss any ongoing case.
The consequences of the investigation are unclear. Typically, the inspector general’s office refers cases in which allegations of regulation violations are substantiated to the secretary of defense or the service secretaries for further action. Cases in which evidence of crimes is found are sent to the Defense Criminal Investigative Service for further investigation, often in conjunction with the Department of Justice.
Swenson, 34, will be the first living U.S. Army officer to receive the medal in more than 40 years. He was recommended for his role in extracting a small group of American military advisers trapped in an eastern Afghanistan valley by a Taliban ambush and then leading U.S. and Afghan forces on repeated forays back into the valley to recover casualties while under vicious enemy fire.
Four U.S. servicemen, nine Afghan security forces and a translator died in the six-hour clash outside the village of Ganjgal. A fifth U.S. soldier, who was among some two dozen American and Afghan wounded, died two months later.
A slew of decorations were awarded to survivors of the battle, including a Medal of Honor for Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer, and two Navy Crosses. Moreover, two Army officers were reprimanded for dereliction of duty for failing to provide air and artillery support for the Afghan troops and their American military advisers.
A chain of U.S. officers and senior officials – beginning in the field and ending with former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta – were required to recommend approval or disapproval for Swenson’s nomination.
Petraeus, based in Kabul, commanded the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan in the summer of 2010, when Swenson’s original Medal of Honor packet – the telephone book-size package of sworn witness statements, maps and other documents supporting the nomination – went missing. Every electronic copy of the packet also disappeared from U.S. military computer systems, except for an incomplete version that was found on a classified network.