By Barbara Starr
More than two years after the U.S. military discovered horrifying abuse at an Afghan hospital it was funding, Congress will on Tuesday finally hear directly from U.S. military whistle blowers and other witnesses about the scandal.
Lawmakers will listen to accusations of rampant Afghan corruption, millions of wasted taxpayer dollars and allegations that two senior U.S. Army generals tried to delay an investigation into it all, because they thought it would make the Obama Administration look bad just prior to the 2010 midterm elections.
The House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security has called the hearings after months of asking the Pentagon to investigate the matter. To date, the Pentagon has only said it is reviewing the allegations; it has not publicly said whether a formal investigation has been launched.
The hearing will bring together several recently retired military officers and current officials for the first time to testify formally about what they know about what happened at the Dawood National Military Hospital in Kabul. U.S. troops worked there trying to train Afghan medical teams to care for their wounded, spending nearly $180 million on drugs, supplies and equipment.
But the U.S. whistle blowers say much of it was stolen or squandered by corrupt Afghan officials, while Afghan patients were horribly abused. Photos obtained by CNN show patients lying in dirty beds with festering wounds and in many cases suffering from a lack of food and medicine.
"Things as simple as dressing changes are not done, patients become infected and then die," says Schuyler Geller, a retired Air Force physician and colonel who brought many of the allegations to light after a tour of duty at the training program.
But the hearing is now going a step further. A second witness, Gerald Carozza Jr., a retired Army lawyer and colonel who also worked on the program, is supporting Geller's allegations that two generals sought to delay an investigation. In remarks made available to CNN, Carozza will tell the committee that at an October 29, 2010, meeting in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Gary Patton suggested that an investigation be delayed until after the 2010 elections.
"I voiced concern about the inappropriateness of allowing such considerations into the decision making process. I made it clear that I was not at the meeting as a legal advisor to the Command Group and that my comments were not legal advice but simply words grounded in a tradition that military officers should neither make decisions based on politics nor allow an appearance of such," Carozza says in his prepared remarks to the committee.
Carozza then says after the U.S. elections of November 2, 2010, a meeting was called in Lt. Gen. William Caldwell's office, the commander of all U.S. training in Afghanistan.
"Although I was not invited to this meeting, its events were relayed to me by three officers who were there and all three descriptions were in sync," Carozza says. "Lt. Gen. Caldwell screamed at these three officers, waiving his finger at them for trying to bring in the DoD IG (the Inspector General of the Department of Defense). He said, 'You are all O-6s (the pay grade for colonels and Naval captains) and should know better. There is nothing wrong in this command that we can't fix ourselves.'"
Carozza adds, "To the great credit and moral courage of these officers, they stood their ground and insisted that bringing in the DoD IG was appropriate and necessary."
Caldwell and Patton have both previously declined to comment on the allegations that they delayed bringing in Pentagon investigators.
Eventually an Inspector General investigation of the hospital was conducted and conditions improved, according to the Pentagon.
But Carozza will tell the committee that that may not be sufficient.
"This hearing should not be about whether a General stifled an investigation for Political reasons with a capital 'P' favoring Democrats or Republicans with capital 'D' or 'R,'" he will say. "The evidence is clear to me that this was politics with a small 'p' – personal career driven politics. The general did not want bad news to leave his command before the election – or after the election."
Carozza goes on to say of Caldwell: "The general, like too many generals, was too concerned about the message, creating a stifling climate for those who had to deal with the reality. Too many generals view the media and information operations as 'battle space.'"