History shows us that when empires over-extend themselves, military commanders become semi-independent warlords who usher into place systems of graft and corruption. Such was the case in the Roman Empire in 193 A.D., when Emperor Pertinax’s Praetorian Guard—a combination personal security force for the emperor and elite special forces unit that distinguished itself on distant battlefields—sold out the emperor in exchange for a bribe from an aspirant emperor, Didius Julianus. The Praetorian Guard assassinated Pertinax and swore their allegiance to the new emperor, Julianus.
The rot of corruption would help ensure the downfall of other global empires. The fraudulent British East India Company and its corporate nabobs, backed by British military and naval power, helped to ignite colonial rebellions in America in the 1770s and India in 1857.
As the United States has over-extended its military realm into the Middle East, South Asia, Africa, Europe, the Asia-Pacific, and Latin America, corruption within so-called “Areas of Responsibility” assigned to regional US military commands has run rampant.
Within the US Pacific Command (PACOM) region, a major bribery and fraud scandal centered on a US Navy contractor, Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA), headed by Leonard Glenn Francis, a 350-pound Malaysian citizen nicknamed “Fat Leonard.” In return for cash, vacations at five-star hotels, first- and business-class flights, expensive concert tickets, Rolex watches, Mont Blanc pens, Dom Perignon champagne, vintage wine, Cuban cigars, spa treatments, foie gras, $2,000 bottles of cognac, and prostitutes, US Navy officers provided Leonard with virtual unfettered access to Navy intelligence and sensitive contract information that was used by GDMA to secure lucrative Navy logistics contracts. The “Fat Leonard” scandal grew to include senior officers, including admirals, attached to the US Seventh Fleet in Japan. The Navy’s investigation is continuing, and more than 60 additional admirals are reportedly under investigation by law enforcement authorities. For years, the Navy scandal extended from Japan to the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Sabah, South Korea, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, Sri Lanka, Hawaii, and Washington, DC and involved, in addition to Navy officer and enlisted personnel, Marine Corps officers and US government civilians, including investigators of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).
One of the worst frauds to have arisen from the neo-conservative bowels of the George W. Bush administration was the US Africa Command (AFRICOM). The June 4, 2017, strangling death in Bamako, Mali of US Army Green Beret Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar by two US Navy SEALs is now linked to his discovery that the two Navy personnel were pocketing official funds used by AFRICOM to pay off informants in the West African country. This type of fraud points to a culture of malfeasance present in US area of responsibility commands, including AFRICOM, Central Command (CENTCOM), and Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).
According to reports in The New York Times and The Daily Beast, the death of Melgar at the hands of the two SEAL thieves occurred within a barracks unit within the heavily-fortified US embassy compound in Mali. The SEALS, Petty Officer Anthony DeDolph and Adam C. Matthews, allegedly killed Melgar after he refused an offer to share their ill-gotten loot and shared, via email, his concerns with his wife back in the United States. The SEALS claimed Melgar died after becoming unconscious during a hand-to-hand combat training session. The SEALS also told military investigators that Melgar was drunk when he became unconscious as the result of a chokehold placed on him during the roughhousing. However, the US Special Operations Command and Army Criminal Investigative Command (USACIC) decided the SEALS had changed their stories so many times that they became subjects, rather than witnesses, in the investigation. An autopsy revealed that there were no traces of alcohol or drugs in Melgar’s body at the time of his death. Furthermore, Melgar was reported by friends and family to have been a teetotaler.
AFRICOM and USACIC tried to cover up the details of Melgar’s death until The New York Times originally broke the story about the death last month. USACIC handed off investigation of the case to the NCIS, which is worse than its Army counterpart in covering up sensitive military criminal cases. Neither of the two SEALS, both of whom were transferred back to the United States and were placed on administrative leave, have been charged in the murder of Melgar. It was apparently officers of the US Special Operations Command, which is headquartered in Tampa, Florida, who tipped off the press about the cover-up involving Melgar’s death.
AFRICOM has also been hesitant to provide full details about an ambush of a joint US-Nigerien unit operating near the Niger village of Tongo-Tongo in October of this year. Four US Army personnel were killed by an armed force that remains unidentified by AFRICOM. Tongo-Tongo sits astride a major African smuggling route for humans, drugs, ivory, and weapons between West Africa and the failed state of Libya. It was later reported that the four US soldiers died at the hands of the attackers after their unit’s Nigerien army personnel fled the scene during the attack. The body of one of the American troops, Sgt. La David Johnson, showed signs of being tortured and executed by the unidentified captors.
The case of Melgar is similar to the murder of West Point ethics professor, Army Col. Ted Westhusing in Baghdad in 2005. Like AFRICOM in Mali and other African countries, CENTCOM was entrusted with hundreds of millions of dollars in cash used to pay-off informants and make local purchases on the Iraqi economy.
Westhusing’s family and friends rejected the Army’s determination that Westhusing took his own life. The Army based its decision on a “suicide” note said to be written in Westhusing’s handwriting. At the time of his death, Westhusing was investigating contract violations and human rights abuses by US Investigations Services (USIS), a privatized former entity of the US Office of Personnel Management later purchased by The Carlyle Group, a firm with close links to George H. W. Bush. While he was in Iraq training Iraqi police and overseeing the USIS contract to train police as part of the Pentagon’s Civilian Police Assistance Training Team, Westhusing received an anonymous letter that reported USIS’s Private Services Division (PSD) was engaged in fraudulent activities in Iraq, including over-billing the government. In addition, the letter reported that USIS security personnel had murdered innocent Iraqis. After demanding answers from USIS, Westhusing reported the problems up the chain of command. After an “investigation,” the Army found no evidence of wrongdoing by USIS.
Days before his supposed suicide by a “self-inflicted” gunshot wound in a Camp Dublin, Iraq, trailer located at Baghdad International Airport, West Point Honor Board member Westhusing reported in e-mail to the United States that “terrible things were going on in Iraq.” He also said he hoped he would make it back to the United States alive. Westhusing had three weeks left in his tour of duty in Iraq when he allegedly shot himself in June 2005.
The cover-up of Westhusing’s death involved the same Army Criminal Investigative Command that covered up Melgar’s death in Mali. The murders of Melgar and Westhusing are not stand-alone events regarding US military forays around the world. Army Corporal Pat Tillman, the star National Football League player who enlisted in the Army after 9/11, became disillusioned with the war in Afghanistan. After Tillman’s private feelings about the Afghan war were discovered by senior commanders in his chain-of-command, Tillman was “fragged” by members of his own unit in Khost province on April 22, 2004. Tillman’s diary, uniforms, and other possessions were burned by his unit to cover up his execution by his own colleagues.
On September 4, 2006, Army Lt. Col. Marshall Gutierrez, the chief logistics officer at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, who was investigating over-payments for goods and services and other fraud, supposedly committed suicide in his base quarters after ingesting prescription sleeping pills and anti-freeze. In December 2006, Army Major Gloria Davis, a contracting officer at Camp Arifjan, allegedly committed suicide in Kuwait after she admitted to receiving $225,000 in bribes from Lee Dynamics, an Army logistics contractor. Davis had reportedly agreed to cooperate with government investigators in their overall investigation of contract fraud in Iraq and Kuwait.
In 2007, a senior Blackwater manager threatened to kill Jean C. Richter, the chief US State Department investigator of Blackwater’s dubious operations in Iraq, unless the State Department called off the investigation. The incident occurred as Richter focused on problems with Blackwater’s $1 billion State Department contract. The CEO of Blackwater was Erik Prince, whose sister, Betsy DeVos, now serves as Donald Trump’s Education Secretary. Prince later sold Blackwater, which is now known as Academi. Prince has reportedly been involved in AFRICOM operations in Libya and Somalia via his Reflex Responses (R2) firm, which is based in Abu Dhabi.
The July 2, 2007, “suicide” of Army Lt. Col. Thomas Mooney, the US Defense Attaché in Nicosia, Cyprus, was said to be the result of a “self-inflicted cut to the throat.” Mooney’s body was found next to an embassy vehicle parked in a secluded location, some 30 miles west of Nicosia. He was said to have left the embassy in the embassy’s black Impala Chevrolet to pick up an arriving passenger at Larnaca International Airport. Although the US embassy and State Department ruled Mooney’s death a suicide, the Cypriot police did not agree with those findings but merely pointed out that suicide was illegal in Cyprus. Mooney was, according to our sources, investigating Iraq-related contract fraud involving companies headquartered in Cyprus, some of which were linked to the Israeli Mafia.
AFRICOM and PACOM—just as is the case with CENTCOM, which complements the culture of baksheesh bribery in the Middle East and South Asia—now find themselves mired in the same depths of kleptocratic fraud as is practiced in countries like Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso, where AFRICOM is active. The Fat Leonard scandal and the recent murder of Melgar in Mali are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the malfeasance involved in global US military operations.
When it comes to the US military operating in its overseas locations, the Latin phrase popularized by the Roman poet Juvenal, perhaps wise to the corruption of the Praetorian Guard of his time, comes to mind. “Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” “Who watches the watchmen?”
This article originally appeared in Strategic Culture Foundation on-line journal.
Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).