The Inquisition of General Caldwell
How a soldier without honor and a sleazy journalist cooked up a story against one of our finest generals.


Jim Lacey

Holmes states that after receiving such orders in writing from a member of Caldwell’s staff, he complained that he wasn’t sure this was a proper assignment for an IO officer. After which, his instructions were clarified: He was specifically told that his job was limited to preparing background packets on visitors similar to those routinely prepared by Public Affairs personnel or other staff officers. In fact, when the command sought a legal opinion on whether the duties assigned Holmes were lawful, the lawyers affirmed that they were.

It is, of course, possible that the ongoing investigation will find a smoking gun. I, however, judge the chances of that happening to be slim. So please allow me to tell you how I and many in the military are assessing the situation.

First, it helps to have a clear idea of the realm of IO and PSYOPS (now awkwardly called MISO — Military Information Support Operations). You might think — as in the George Clooney movie — of an organization filled with “men staring at goats.” In reality, you have a few dedicated professionals trying to turn the bad opinions that our enemies and some local populations have of us in a more favorable direction. To do so, they are permitted to plant false stories and otherwise bend the truth if absolutely necessary. By law, they can do this only when targeting foreign populations. Public Affairs officers, on the other hand, are not part of the IO/PSYOPS community and are expressly tasked with informing American audiences about military matters. By law, they are forbidden to speak untruths.

Early indications suggest that Holmes was not one of the IO world’s stellar performers. According to Holmes, it was his job “to get inside people’s heads.” According to the Army, Holmes never even attended the PSYOPS course or received any training in that specialty.

Hastings’s article states that after Holmes sought legal advice about using IO techniques on Americans, he was targeted for retribution. What actually happened was that the lawyer Holmes selected looked into the matter and stumbled upon irregularities on Holmes’s part. As an officer of the court, the lawyer was duty-bound to report them. A later investigation, which it appears Caldwell took no part in, led to Holmes’s receiving an official letter of reprimand.

Among other charges, the reprimand was for: having an inappropriate relationship with a female subordinate, going into Kabul in civilian clothes without permission to have dinner and consume alcohol with said subordinate, and running a home business on government time and with government computers. He was lucky to get off with a reprimand, as all of the above are court-martial offenses. If the timeline is right, it appears that Holmes was not attacked as a whistleblower, but decided to make his charges only after receiving what he viewed as unjust punishment for his own infractions. He did, however, wait until he got home to begin fighting the charges against him and making his accusations against Caldwell. When the inspector general declared that Holmes’s claims about the misuse of IO were unfounded, he took his story to Hastings.

So what really happened?

Caldwell’s command (NATO Training Mission — Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command — Afghanistan) is responsible for training the Afghan national army and police. All reports show that under Caldwell’s stewardship these forces are making substantial progress and may soon be ready to start replacing American soldiers in hotly contested areas. Most of the credit for this achievement goes to General Caldwell, who has by all accounts been accomplishing miracles with a severely undermanned organization.

One of the things Caldwell’s organization does not do, however, is target the locals with IO messages, meaning that he had no need for an IO team. When Holmes arrived with his small IO detachment, Caldwell had no use for them, at least in their specialist task. What he did have was a screaming need to fill other slots. So, rather than let five IO officers sit around twiddling their thumbs, Caldwell’s chief of staff assigned them other work.