Army Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton will no longer direct the Defense Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) in the wake of allegations that he stymied an investigation into patient abuses at a U.S.-funded hospital in Afghanistan. Patton is officially retiring from the Army in April. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has appointed Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Snow to take his place as director of SAPRO.
NBC News reported in November that Patton "blocked a U.S. Navy nurse from briefing a team from the Pentagon ... about patient abuses" at the Dawood hospital in Afghanistan. According to The Wall Street Journal's 2011 report, Afghan soldiers at this hospital were starved and suffered from "maggot-infested wounds." Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand argued last month that he should "be relieved of his post" if the allegations turn out to be true. Patton's spokesperson said his retirement has nothing to do with the allegations.
The Navy nurse in NBC's report claims Patton threatened him before the briefing: "Gen. Patton gets me cornered in the hallway, he puts his finger in my chest and he says, 'You need to stay in your f--- lane,’ lieutenant." Patton's spokesperson would not comment on these allegations.
Efforts to pass new laws to prevent sexual assault in the military have recently been sidelined by Congress. Gillibrand is still hoping to get a vote on a bill that would take major crimes like sexual assault out of the military chain of command. She says this change is necessary to allow frightened victims to come forward and report.
Gillibrand doesn't seem entirely satisfied by news of Patton's retirement. She said today in a statement, "There are serious questions about Gen. Patton's conduct involving blocking an independent investigation, so I am concerned this decision is more about avoiding getting to the bottom of what happened in that case."
Meanwhile, Sen. Claire McCaskill, who has also been fighting to change the way the military handles sexual assault, promises to hold Patton's replacement's feet to the fire. She said in a statement:
"As the senior woman on the Armed Services Committee I am committed to making sure ... reforms that will protect victims, make retaliation a crime, prohibit interference by commanders after a jury has spoken, and put more perpetrators in prison, are quickly implemented. It is my job to make sure Maj. Gen. Snow shares that commitment."
McCaskill and Gillibrand disagree on how to reform the system — McCaskill doesn't think sexual assault cases should be taken outside the chain of command. Snow has not made his opinion on the issue public.