The Empire Strikes Back—at Schwalier

Defense Chief Robert Gates, top Pentagon lawyer Daniel Dell’Orto, and unnamed Justice Department confreres have struck yet another blow at Terryl J. Schwalier, Washington’s designated Khobar Towers scapegoat. They have forced USAF to halt and reverse its efforts to retore Schwalier’s second star after a 10-year struggle. The new decision was elaborated in a March 28 letter from Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne to the Air Force Review Boards Agency, ordering it to halt implementation of its recent decision to correct “an injustice” and retroactively promote Schwalier to major general. That corrective step has drawn strong praise from AFA and many other Air Force groups. They believed Schwalier had been made the fall guy by the Clinton Administration and some members of Congress for alleged command failures in the 1996 terrorist bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. Nineteen airmen died. Though the Senate had confirmed Schwalier’s promotion to major general before the attack, and though critics produced no credible evidence of fault on the part of Schwalier, Secretary of Defense William Cohen blocked his second star. In his March 28 letter, Wynne appeared to be acting under duress. He said Gates “has informed me” that Dell’Orto thinks the Air Force acted beyond its authority, that “the Department of Justice supports [Dell’Orto’s] conclusion of law,” and that “the Secretary of Defense agrees.” The service had already changed the general’s official biography to reflect the new situation, giving his new grade, promotion date, and retirement date. All that is now to be rescinded. Schwalier could not immediately be reached to discuss options, which clearly could include further legal action in federal court. (Read more about the Schwalier case and Khobar Towers in this collection from Air Force Magazine.)