(Recasts with closing arguments from attorneys)
By Kelly Twedell
FORT BRAGG, N.C., March 19 (Reuters) - A U.S. Army general who pleaded guilty to mistreating a junior female officer during one of several inappropriate relationships should be dismissed from the service for the harm caused by his criminal acts, military lawyers argued on Wednesday.
Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair used the power of his rank to exploit women for personal gratification, breaking the trust given to him as a top officer, said Major Rebecca DiMuro, a special victims prosecutor.
"This is not honorable service," DiMuro said during the government's closing argument at Sinclair's court-martial in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. "When given the ultimate trust, he abused it."
Sinclair's defense lawyers argued the 27-year Army veteran who served five combat tours should be allowed to retire at a reduced rank rather than lose out on his military pension and benefits if dismissed.
"He deserves redemption," said Major Sean Foster, part of the general's defense team.
The trial judge is expected to announce Sinclair's sentence on Thursday, two years after criminal charges upended the career of the former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and focused attention on how the U.S. armed forces handle sexual misconduct cases.
Sinclair's admissions of wrongdoing could bring jail time, though not as severe a punishment as he faced before being absolved of sexual assault charges in a plea deal this week. The agreement with the government put an undisclosed cap on the possible penalties.
Sinclair, 51, a married father of two, told the court he felt deep shame and remorse for the selfish behavior that hurt his family and the Army. He was sent home to Fort Bragg after being stripped of command in southern Afghanistan in May 2012 as a result of the case.
"I have been in limbo, with no purpose and no ability to be useful to the Army or my country," he said in a tearful statement. "I've been frustrated and angry, but I don't have to look any further than the mirror for someone to blame."
The one-star general apologized to the three junior female officers from whom he sought a date or nude photographs and to the female Army captain he admitted he emotionally harmed during an adulterous sexual affair.
"It was my responsibility to ensure that these officers were protected and promoted and I failed them as a leader," Sinclair said.
MORE THAN MISTAKES
During her closing argument, the prosecutor said the case was about more than mistakes. DiMuro said Sinclair demonstrated an escalating pattern of misconduct and took steps to make sure he was not exposed, including lying to the captain about his intentions for their relationship in order to keep her close.
Defense attorney Foster said the captain and other female officers were willing participants in their interactions with Sinclair and argued his actions should be considered in the context of an otherwise stellar military career.
About two dozen defense witnesses, many of them male and female soldiers who served with Sinclair, testified that he was an inspirational, fearless leader who cared more about his troops than his bosses.
"He was easily the best brigade commander I worked for," said Colonel Kenneth Kelley, who worked with Sinclair in Germany and Iraq and traveled from Japan to testify on his behalf.
Sinclair also pleaded guilty to military offenses that include possessing pornography on his laptop while deployed in Afghanistan, misusing his government credit card to visit his mistress and using derogatory language to refer to female officers.
Though his main accuser stands by her allegations that he forced her to perform oral sex when she tried to break off their illicit relationship, Sinclair was cleared of sexual assault charges through the plea bargain.
Also dropped were charges that Sinclair had sex with the captain, a military intelligence officer, in a parking lot in Germany and on a hotel balcony in Arizona, and that he threatened to kill her if she exposed the three-year affair.
Prosecutors sought to show through their witnesses that the general was prone to anger and that his actions hurt female junior officers and brought disrepute to the Army.
The rare court-martial against a general unraveled and resulted in the plea deal after Pohl ruled politics appeared to have improperly influenced the Army's decision to reject an earlier offer by Sinclair to plead guilty if the charges of coercive sex acts were dismissed. (Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, James Dalgleish and Tom Brown)