How do you demote a retired US General?

The Secretary of the Army is expected to recommend that retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger be demoted for his role in covering up the cause of death Army Ranger and former NFL player Pat Tillman. The article notes that if the Army Secretary “does recommend to Defense Secretary Robert Gates that Kensinger lose a star and be demoted to major general, that would trigger a decrease in his retirement pension and benefits.”

Other general and ranking officers are expected to get reprimands, which will be a severe black mark on their career records, but not lose them rank or pay.

How does the Defense Department go about simply demoting a retired general? My understanding is that, in general, service members cannot be demoted without a court martial. Moreover, in the civilian world at least, companies cannot just reduce the benefits of retirees.

How does it work in this case?

Just an educated guess. Kensinger will be given the choice of accepting an administrative reduction, or facing a court martial. He can be reactivated and court martialed.

My understanding is that US general officers are never actually retired, but simply moved to the inactive list.

All Regular Army officers serve for life. They retire, and they don’t have authority when not on active duty, but they remain officers, and their commissions are still valid.

Reserve Officers are able to leave service entirely, and may not be subjected to military justice after separation. Reserve Officers seldom make even top field grade, (Colonel) much less general grades.



Oh, and, uh, welcome to the boards.

I thought they just faded away

That practice was ended around fifty years ago.

This is correct.

Basically, he’ll be told: “Jump, or get pushed.” Almost certainly he’ll jump - if he has to be pushed, he might well lose more than some level of retirment benefits. What this does, in effect, is two-fold:

  1. A massive loss of presteige and earnings power - Executive search companies love senior officers to fill senior executive positions, but your grade has impact on which positions they’ll offer, and retired officers, especially notable ones, may also go on the speaking circuit. this will effectively remove Kensinger from the ‘sought-after speakers’ list.

  2. A very significant fine, spread out over his lifetime. We’re not just talking a loss of thousands of dollars, but potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on how long he lives - the reduced benefits will affect his cash flow, and will be an uncoverable loss.

First, does that mean that one can accept a voluntary loss of rank?

Second, were there to be a court martial, wouldn’t the prosecution have to prove that he committed a UCMJ violation (rather than a mere non-criminal fuck up) by trotting out the full range of witnesses to show the violation and giving him access to pretty much everyone in the chain who could provide defense evidence. That would result in a huge dog and pony show that I am sure the Defense Department would greatly wish to avoid.

Also, don’t court martial members have to be the rank of the accused or higher? I can’t imagine that the Defense Department really wants to have a hatful of three and four stars sitting around for the weeks that a show trial like this might take.

Obviously saying “push me” would be a huge roll of the dice, but I could see an cantankerous general officer assessing his strategic and tactical position and daring the Defense Department to go for the court martial. (And besides, hasn’t this announcement and the related publicity already done him much of the damage to be done in the post-military career category. Working to clear his name might even help here.)

Certainly. It has to be offered, but you can ask, and maybe it’ll be offered, or maybe not.

Which is why they’ll offer to let him take an administrative bust. But there seems to be plenty of credible evidence that he has committed a number of UCMJ offenses. Coverup (falsifying records, conspiracy, etc.) is agin’ the rules.

In general, yes. But that’s easy enough to do. However, as you correctly note, it would be a pain in the butt. Hence the offer of an admin bust. OTOH, if they do have to empannel a court, it’s going to be with some rather irritated officers - not the most friendly of situations for the defendant.

See above. Especially if there’s credible evidence, all he’d be doing is risking a much more serious punishment in front of a pannel that doesn’t want to be there, and is likely irritated with having been forced to be there.

Not as much you might think, in either case.

Ever heard of non-judicial punishment? It is far more common in the military than courts-martial - basically you are punished by your commanding officer or a flag officer. This punishment can even include demotion. It is reserved for less serious offenses, and a version of it is being used here.

Now, the accused has the right to opt out of the NJP process and request a court martial. This affords him greater legal protections and opportunities to defend himself - but makes the punishments available upon conviction much more dire.

I have to throw something else into this. I think that personal honor is an important factor in something like this. Kensinger probably believed that he was acting in the best interest of the Army when he chose to cover up the friendly fire incident and portray Tillman as a hero. There was almost certainly evidence that Tillman acted heroically, so it wasn’t a complete fabrication. After the fact, when Kensinger recognized the results of his little decepton, I think it’s very probable that he would accept the punishment as just. I don’t think the monetary loss is as great as some think, maybe an 8 to 10% loss in retirement pay, but no loss in tangible benefits. The public embarassment is a big factor, but I suspect many of his fellow officers will have a certain amount of empathy for the circumstances leading to his misstep. All else being equal, I suspect he will accept the reduction in rank, rather than make this a public issue again.

Generals of those ranks usually hold some very important positions, so, yes, they would not want them sitting around for a long court-martial. But they could activate other retired Generals and impanel them.

The AP has suggested that Tillman’s death could have been not just friendly fire:

So maybe it is a way of avoiding a court martial. But why he would be killed in such a way seems a mystery to me. It just doesn’t make sense.