US Army prosecutors have offered the first details of a rare criminal case against a general, alleging in a hearing that he committed sex-related crimes involving four female officers and a civilian.
The military hearing on evidence in the case against Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair began Monday at Fort Bragg in the state of North Carolina, home to the 82nd Airborne Division.
He is essentially accused of pressuring or forcing a string of female subordinates into sex.
Officials said the Article 32 hearing, similar to a grand jury proceeding in civilian court, was expected to last at least two days.
The first witness called was Major General James Huggins, the former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and Sinclair's direct superior during his most recent combat tour to Afghanistan.
Huggins recounted that on March 19, a woman captain came to his office late at night in tears. She reported that she had been involved in a three-year-long sexual affair with Sinclair, then her direct commander and a married man.
Adultery is a crime under the military code of justice.
Huggins said he knew the woman officer to be a good soldier whom Sinclair had specifically asked to have transferred under his command.
According to Huggins, the captain said Sinclair had once forced her to perform oral sex on him, but that she had also had sex with her boss willingly both at army bases in the United States and on overseas deployments to Germany, Iraq and at the airborne division's headquarters in Afghanistan.
When she had tried to end the affair, Sinclair had threatened her and persisted in pushing for sex.
"She was exceptionally emotional, fearful," Huggins recounted Monday. "She stated that she knows this would basically end her career."
After the conversation, Huggins initiated a criminal investigation of his trusted deputy commander, whom he described as a personal friend.
Sinclair now faces possible courts martial on charges including forcible sodomy, wrongful sexual conduct, violating orders, engaging in inappropriate relationships, misusing a government travel charge card, and possessing pornography and alcohol while deployed.
Sinclair sat silently at the defence table during the hearing, rarely making eye contact with Huggins as he testified.
Sinclair had served as deputy commander in charge of logistics and support for the division's troops in Afghanistan from July 2010 until he was sent home in May because of the allegations.
Prosecutors alleged the general's illegal acts took place between 2007 and 2012 in places including Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany, as well as Fort Bragg and Fort Hood in Texas.
Prosecutors said Monday that when other officers had questioned how Sinclair treated and spoke to women under his command, he was reported to have replied: "I'm a general. I'll say whatever the (expletive) I want."
There have been only two other court-martial cases against army generals in recent years.
The army had kept all details of the allegations against Sinclair secret until Monday, refusing to release charging documents filed against him in September.
That secrecy is different from other recent high-profile cases where prosecutors were quick to release charging documents.