Witness: U.S. general opposed hospital abuse probe

In this photo taken on Dec. 19, 2010, A wounded Afghan soldier recuperates at Dawood National Military Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan.
AP Photo/Altaf Qadri

(AP) WASHINGTON - An active duty Army colonel testified Tuesday that the three-star general who headed the training mission in Afghanistan made him retract a request for an investigation into corruption and horrible conditions at a U.S.-funded Afghan military hospital.

Col. Mark Fassl, who was inspector general for the training command, said he was shocked when Lt. Gen. William Caldwell cited the then-upcoming 2010 congressional elections and asked, "How could we ... make this request with elections coming? He calls me Bill."

Photos show alleged neglect at U.S.-funded Afghan hospital

Fassl said he believed this was a reference to President Barack Obama.

Two retired colonels who worked with the training command also told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that Caldwell did not want an inspector general's investigation of the Dawood National Military Hospital. One said in his statement that the hospital had "Auschwitz-like conditions."

Caldwell is now head of U.S. Army North Command and senior commander of Fort Sam Houston in Texas. North Command spokesman Col. Wayne Shanks said, "I am sure that Lt. Gen. Caldwell would welcome the opportunity to respond to any inquiry, and I'm confident that once the facts are presented and examined, all allegations will be proven false."

Congressional officials said Caldwell could be called to testify in a future hearing.

Fassl said that Caldwell "was visibly upset we had made the (Department of Defense) request." He added that he retracted the request as ordered.

The colonel said he had expected Caldwell would want to immediately visit the hospital and see the conditions. "That's what I was expecting and I didn't get that," he said.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican who chaired the panel, told the witnesses, "It takes commitment and guts" for them to testify. He added, "this is not over." Chaffetz displayed pictures of patients with horrible injuries who were not receiving care from medical personnel.

Retired Army Col. Gerald Carozza Jr., who was chief of legal development assisting the Afghan Army and defense ministry, also said Caldwell expressed concern that the request was too close to the 2010 congressional elections. But Carozza added that in his view, Caldwell "did not want the request to go to the DOD IG (Defense Department inspector general) at all."

"The general did not want bad news to leave his command before the election or after the election," Carozza's statement said.

In September 2011, The Wall Street Journal reported from Kabul that U.S. officers found that patients at the hospital were routinely dying of simple infections and starving to death, while corrupt doctors and nurses demanded bribes for food and basic care.

A memorandum written by another committee witness, retired Air Force Col. Schuyler Geller, confirmed the poor treatment and corruption. Geller, who was a command surgeon attached to the training mission, agreed in a memo that Caldwell did not want an inspector general's investigation.

Geller told the hearing that when senior U.S. medical personnel visited the hospital, "they got a dog and pony show" to hide the abuses. Even the Army's surgeon general said he had been coming to the facility for seven years and nobody told him about the conditions, Geller testified.

Carozza added that Caldwell told his subordinates that their mission was to build up Afghan ministries and not deal with the corruption of the Afghan government.