FORT BRAGG, N.C. — At one point putting her head in her hands and sobbing, the Army captain who has accused Brigadier General Jeffrey A. Sinclair of sexual assault took the witness stand Friday on the first day of his closely watched court-martial.
During five hours of testimony, the 34-year-old captain chronicled in detail a three-year affair that included casual sex at an operating base in Iraq and in a hotel room in North Carolina, but also, she said, violent moments where he forced her to perform oral sex and threatened to kill her if she disclosed their relationship.
Under questioning from the prosecution, the captain, a military intelligence officer, described the affair as often tender, saying, “I wanted to believe I meant something to him.” But it was also volatile and, over time, increasingly frightening, she said.
At one point, the captain said, she told the general, the former deputy commander of the 82d Airborne Division, that she looked forward to some day meeting his wife. But he angrily said that would not happen.
“He told me that if I ever said anything to her or anyone else about he and I, he would kill me,” the captain said, adding that he also threatened her family.
The case has attracted rapt attention in Congress not only as possible evidence of widespread sexual misconduct in the military but also as a measure of the Pentagon’s ability to crack down on it. Sinclair, one of the highest-ranking soldiers to face court-martial in decades, served as the deputy commander of US forces in southern Afghanistan and was widely considered a rising star in the Army before the sexual assault allegations emerged nearly two years ago.
In the most emotional moments of the day, the captain testified that beginning in late 2011, Sinclair twice forced her to perform oral sex in Afghanistan while she was trying to talk to him about “how much I hated my life.”
“I tried to pull back, and he put his other hand on my shoulder,” the woman said. “He kept pushing down.” After that, she said, “I could not stand being on the same base as him.”
In a new disclosure, the captain asserted that after she resisted some sexual advances by Sinclair on a hotel balcony in Arizona in 2010, “he grabbed me by the throat and pushed me up against the door.” The defense said it had never heard that story before and questioned its veracity.
Yet the affair continued, the captain said, in part because she was afraid no one would believe her and that she would be ostracized. Under questioning by the lead prosecutor, Lieutenant Colonel Robert C. Stelle, the captain said she did not report the general until much later because, “I felt somehow like the 82d would try to cover it up and make it look like I was crazy.”
After the session, Richard L. Scheff, Sinclair’s lead lawyer, called her testimony “fiction” and said it was “completely different” from the affectionate things she wrote about Sinclair in her diary.
“She filled in the gaps, and she just made it up out of whole cloth,” Scheff told reporters.
Echoing her opening statement from the morning, Ellen C. Brotman, another member of the defense team, said outside the courthouse, “What she’s upset about is the lack of General Sinclair to make a commitment to her and divorce his wife.” She added, “She spent three years in this relationship, and she thinks she wasted her time, and she’s furious about it.”
The defense is expected to begin cross-examining the captain Monday morning.
Sinclair pleaded guilty Thursday, before the trial opened, to a set of lesser charges in hopes of focusing the testimony on her credibility, his lawyers said.