Friday, May 29, 2009
By Justin Mason (Contact)Gazette Reporter
CAPITAL REGION — A Virginia senator is urging the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee to delay Maj. Gen. Joseph Taluto’s confirmation as leader of the Army National Guard at the request of a war widow who alleges that he failed to bring her husband’s killer to justice.
Siobhan Esposito, the wife of Army Capt. Phillip Esposito, wrote a letter to Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., voicing her opposition to the New York National Guard leader’s nomination. Among other charges lodged in the scathing correspondence, the widow faults Taluto, 61, for not responding appropriately to threats made by a noncommissioned officer and for overseeing a “compromised” investigation that resulted in the acquittal of her husband’s accused killer.
“At root, I hold that Gen. Taluto’s actions reveal that he has nothing less than a callous disregard for the lives and fate of his own men,” she wrote in the missive, which was dated four days after his nomination this month. “To somehow maintain that this general has displayed the integrity, trustworthiness and competence necessary to direct the affairs of the entire [Army] National Guard is to ignore his repeated and substantive failures.”
Esposito, 30, of Suffern, and 1st Lt. Louis Allen, 34, of Milford, Pa.. were both killed in an explosion in their room at one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces in June 2005. Esposito had served as company commander in the 42nd Infantry Division of New York’s Guard, while Allen was the company’s operations officer.
Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez, 41, of Troy, was arrested on murder charges after a soldier told military investigators that Martinez was at odds with Esposito and clashed with the officer regularly. One Army captain testified that Martinez told him he planned to “frag” Esposito, using the Vietnam War-era term referring to a soldier killing a superior.
At the time, Taluto was in Tikrit commanding the division and Task Force Liberty during its deployment. The onetime Schenectady resident returned to New York in November 2005 and was named the adjutant general of the state’s Guard three months later.
Martinez was tried on two counts of premeditated murder and had faced the death penalty in the case. But after nearly six weeks of testimony and two days of deliberation, a 14-member jury acquitted Martinez of all charges in December 2008.
Documents that surfaced in the months following the trial indicated that Martinez had signed an offer to plead guilty to the murder charges in exchange for a reduced sentence of life in prison. However, the prosecution rejected the offer after becoming concerned that the plea deal could make him eligible for parole after only 10 years in prison.
Webb, who is among 15 Democrats on the 26-member Armed Services Committee, contacted chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., in writing last week. He has asked that the confirmation hearings be forestalled until all of Siobhan Esposito’s concerns can be fully vetted.
“Mrs. Esposito has raised serious allegations regarding [Maj.] Gen. Taluto’s command of the 42nd Infantry Division and the investigation into the death of her husband,” he said in his letter. “Owning to the gravity of her allegations, I believe that the full committee should not act on Maj. [Gen.] Taluto’s nomination until it ascertains the facts surrounding the matter.”
A spokeswoman for Webb later clarified that the senator hadn’t taken a position regarding Esposito’s allegations.
A spokesman from Levin’s office declined to comment on military confirmation hearings. Likewise, Eric Durr, spokesman for the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs, would not comment on the letters about Taluto’s confirmation.
“As long as the confirmation process is in the works, it would be inappropriate to comment on that,” he said.
However, Durr did indicate that Taluto’s command in Iraq wouldn’t ordinarily mean that he would be alerted to the problems that apparently existed between Martinez and Esposito. He said Taluto oversaw a command with more than 23,000 soldiers in 6 brigades deployed in “an area the size of West Virginia.”
“A general officer does not deal in company business,” he said. “Whatever tensions were going on in [Esposito’s company], Gen. Taluto would not have been aware of that.”