Marine Gen. John R. Allen, the former commander of American forces in Afghanistan, stepped down on the eve of becoming the allied supreme commander in Europe following an internal investigation that the Pentagon refuses to publicly release. The chain of command that cleared Allen of wrongdoing in his exchange of emails with Tampa socialite Jill Kelley says the conversations between the two and the investigation that followed are personal matters and that releasing the records would invade Allen's privacy. It is not a personal matter when one of this nation's senior military leaders abruptly resigns under questionable circumstances. The American people deserve to see the substance of the evidence and how the Pentagon policed its ranks with its handling of this investigation.
The Pentagon cleared Allen in January of any professional misconduct in his exchange of emails with Kelley. Before being deployed to Afghanistan, Allen served as deputy commander and then acting commander of Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base from 2008 to 2011. He followed the command of Gen. David Petraeus, who during his time in Tampa also befriended the Kelley family. Kelley touched off a scandal that forced Petraeus to resign as CIA director last year after emails showed he had an affair with his biographer. While the Pentagon's inspector general cleared Allen of misconduct, the general turned down President Barack Obama's offer to become supreme NATO commander and announced last week he would retire to spend more time with his ailing wife.
Allen's departure may have spared him, his family and the Pentagon some embarrassment over the relationship between the general and a Tampa woman who ingratiated herself with the highest reaches of the military establishment. But while the emails that Kelley described as being in part flirtatious may have been personal in nature, Allen's judgment and character are the larger issues. The conduct of active-duty officers reflects on their fitness for command. Allen was a rising star whose talent and experience earned him ever-greater responsibility. And the sudden departure of an officer in whom Americans had invested so much has jumbled the military's leadership ranks. The fallout from this episode reached well beyond Allen's family, all the way to NATO, America's premier alliance. However personal this tragedy, it comes at great public cost.
The American people also deserve the comfort of knowing that the Pentagon investigated the episode fully and fairly and came to a sound conclusion. The issue is not merely the content of the emails, but whether Allen was held to the same standards of discipline as his subordinates. The investigation was an outlay of public money and resources. And releasing the record does not jeopardize national security, since the Pentagon refused disclosure on privacy, not security, grounds.
The administration should reverse course and release the Allen investigation for the sake of accountability in the ranks and confidence in government.