Obama's National Guard Pick Faces Hurdle

President Obama has nominated Maj. Gen. Joseph Taluto of New York to head the Army National Guard. Taluto had commanded a Guard unit in Iraq and during that time, a soldier under his command killed an American officer in the unit. Now the widow of the dead officer is calling on the Senate Armed Services Committee to block Taluto's appointment.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Now a story about who will lead the Army National Guard. This is not often a controversial post, but President Obama's nominee is running into some opposition. He is Major General Joseph Taluto. He served in Iraq during some of the worst fighting in the war, commanding a guard division. And it was an incident from that time in Iraq that is threatening to hold up his appointment. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann explains.

BRIAN MANN: General Taluto commanded the 42nd Infantry Division, the National Guard unit from New York. In June 2005, two officers under his command were off duty at their base in Tikrit. They were killed when a powerful claymore mine detonated near their room. Military officials later accused an American, Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, of murdering his superior officers. But Siobhan Esposito, the widow of one of the murdered soldiers blames the man who led the 42nd, General Taluto.

Ms. SIOBHAN ESPOSITO: There were repeated death threats by Staff Sergeant Martinez against my husband's life in front of everyone and no one thought to enforce the rules.

MANN: Esposito says General Taluto tolerated lax discipline in Iraq and mishandled the investigation into her husband's murder.

Ms. ESPOSITO: My charge against General Taluto is not that he was, you know, the trigger man or that he had specific knowledge that my husband would be murdered by Staff Sergeant Martinez, but there was a systemic lack of discipline in the 42nd Infantry Division. And that was a product of the general's lack of concern and professional incompetence.

MANN: General Taluto is now head of New York's National Guard. He led one of the first guard units into New York City after 9/11. He drew wide praise earlier this month when he was tapped by President Obama to head the Army National Guard. But in a letter written last week, Virginia Senator Jim Webb, a member of the Armed Services Committee, urged the panel to review Siobhan Esposito's charges. Webb cited the quote, "gravity of her allegations" and asked that the confirmation be delayed until the committee has a chance to look into the matter.

General Taluto's spokesman, Eric Durr, wouldn't comment on Senator Webb's letter. But he said there was no way General Taluto could've known that a soldier under his command might kill a superior officer.

Mr. ERIC DURR (Spokesman to Major General Joseph Taluto): In the normal course of events, a general officer does not involve himself in what's going on in one of the 70-plus companies that would make up this 23,000 soldier task force.

MANN: The man accused of murdering Captain Phillip Esposito and Lieutenant Louis Allen was later acquitted after the court threw out key testimony. Esposito's widow feels the case was mishandled and holds the general responsible. But Durr says General Taluto had very little to do with the investigation or prosecution. It's unclear how serious a hurdle this will be for the general's nomination. The Senate Armed Services Committee has not yet scheduled to vote.

For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann.

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