U.S. General at Khobar Towers Bombing Loses Bid for Second Star

The U.S. Air Force general who was in charge when terrorists bombed the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996 can’t challenge then-President Bill Clinton’s decision to pass him over for promotion, a U.S. appeals court said today.

Retired Brigadier General Terryl Schwalier had been approved for promotion to major general in 1995, and the Senate confirmed the nomination in March 1996, to take effect in January or February of 1997. Clinton removed him from the promotion list in a decision that can’t be appealed, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington said.

In June 1996, less than three months after the Senate vote, a truck bomb killed 19 airmen and injured hundreds of others at the apartment complex near the military base that Schwalier commanded. Investigations by the Defense Department and other government agencies called it an intelligence failure caused by a lack of preparation. One report placed much of the blame on Schwalier, while others said he acted appropriately.

His promotion was delayed by the investigations and in 1997, Secretary of Defense William Cohen recommended that Clinton remove Schwalier’s name from the promotion list, which the president did.

Schwalier retired in 1997. In 2003, he filed an application to correct his military record to list him as a major general, arguing that he should have been promoted as a matter of law and was entitled to back pay.

A decade of litigation followed, with the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records agreeing with him and saying his record should be changed because of an “injustice” and the Defense Department rescinding the retroactive promotion.

The Federal Circuit said the Senate vote and promotion list didn’t complete the requirements for promotion -- it still required the president’s approval.

Schwalier’s argument “would effectively allow Congress to compel the President to appoint senior officers of the United States,” Circuit Judge Todd Hughes wrote for the three-judge panel.

The case is Schwalier v. Defense, 2014-1113, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Washington).

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