US Army commander in Japan suspended over sex-assault probe

WASHINGTON (AP) - A two-star general who commands US Army forces in Japan has been suspended from his duties for allegedly failing to report or properly investigate an allegation of sexual assault, the Army said.

Major General Michael T. Harrison was suspended by the Army chief of staff, General Ray Odierno, and Army Secretary John McHugh, the Army said on Friday. It provided no details about the alleged sexual assault case.

Until the investigation of Major General Harrison's role is completed, Major General James C. Boozer will take his place in Japan, the Army said.

Major General Harrison already had been selected to become deputy commander of the Army component of US Central Command, based in Kuwait. That new assignment was publicly announced in February by the Pentagon, which said at the same time that Major General Boozer would replace Major General Harrison as commander in Japan.

Typically, an officer who has been suspended rather than relieved of command could be reinstated in his job if cleared of all allegations. But this won't happen in Major General Harrison's case because Major General Boozer already was scheduled to take over the command in Japan next week, which is sooner than the investigation is expected to be completed.

Major General Harrison, a 33-year Army veteran, began his assignment in Japan in October 2010.

Amid increased political pressure to crack down on sexual abuse in the military services, the Air Force said on Friday it is expanding the office responsible for sexual assault prevention and placed a female two-star general in charge.

Major General Margaret H. Woodward, who ran the US portion of the allied air campaign over Libya in 2011 and is one of the Air Force's brightest stars, is running the reorganised office. She will report to the vice chief of the Air Force.

The move won praise from the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Republican Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, who called Major General Woodward a "breath of fresh air."

The office previously was run by a lieutenant colonel, Jeffrey Krusinski, who was arrested in May and charged with sexual battery. That incident escalated public debate over whether the military was taking seriously the problem of sexual abuse.

The House is scheduled to vote next week on a defence policy bill that would take away the power of military commanders to overturn convictions in rape and assault cases. The legislation also would require that anyone in uniform found guilty of a sex-related crime receive a punishment that includes, at a minimum, a dismissal from military service or a dishonorable discharge.