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02-28-06, 12:44 PM
Fallen star

By Bryant Jordan
Times staff writer

The general would not take "no" for an answer, and although the woman never actually said the word, she felt she was sending him a strong enough signal.

They were seated next to each other during a holiday party when Brig. Gen. Richard S. Hassan, director of the Air Force Senior Leadership Management office at the Pentagon, repeatedly put his hand on her upper thigh.

Each time he did so, the woman, a member of his staff, would get up and leave the table. This happened about six or seven times during the evening, she said.

They were hints Hassan should have taken.

But this wasn't the only time a woman had seen such behavior from this boss, an investigation by the Air Force inspector general found.

Hassan was to retire as a colonel March 1, after receiving nonjudicial punishment for offenses including sexual harassment and maltreatment of female subordinates, as well as maintaining inappropriate relationships with female subordinates.

"I feel like it's complete manipulation," the woman told investigators about working for Hassan, "and I hate to think of myself as a victim, but really that's what it is."

Neither the woman who brought the complaint to the IG nor any other female staff member who disclosed inappropriate behavior by Hassan was identified by Air Force investigators.

Their names, along with the exact dates and most of the locations of the incidents, are redacted in the copy of the report released to Marine Corps Times under the Freedom of Information Act, making it difficult at times to know where the allegations of one woman end and those of another woman begin.

The allegations, detailed in an 82-page report completed last June, paint a picture of a man intent on controlling the women's physical appearance and behavior.

According to one woman's complaints - all of which were substantiated by investigators - Hassan told her what kind of pantyhose to wear at work, to wear skirts and not pants, and to wear shoes made of real leather, not imitation.

Once, he suggested the woman remove her shoes for him; on another occasion, he called her attention to an image displayed on his computer monitor showing several nude people gathered around a pool.

Other women told investigators similar stories - of Hassan's interest in their hosiery, in touching them, in rubbing their feet, of cozying up to them as if they were intimate friends.

While there are no allegations that Hassan, who is married, committed adultery with any of the women, the substantiated allegations in the report included numerous sexually oriented comments, suggestions, references and actions.

In all, the report makes note of five victims, though none is identified by name.

The women told investigators they felt they had to play along to get along; not doing so put you on the outs with the general, an uncomfortable place to be.

Word of Hassan's behavior reached the IG's office by January 2005 - the same month it was decided that the Air Force's top lawyer, Maj. Gen. Thomas Fiscus, would retire as a colonel after receiving nonjudicial punishment for maintaining unprofessional relationships and fraternizing with female subordinates, and for obstruction of justice.

Investigators turned over the report on Hassan to the IG on June 22; five days later, he was removed as director of the senior leadership management office.

By the end of October, he'd accepted an offer of nonjudicial punishment from the convening authority in the case - Gen. Lance Lord, commander of Air Force Space Command. Under the Article 15 punishment, Hassan received a letter of reprimand and an order to forfeit $1,000 in pay a month for two months, the Air Force said.

No Air Force officer above the rank of colonel has ever been taken to court-martial.

The most damning evidence of Hassan's unprofessional relationships came from two women on his staff, backed up by other witness testimony and e-mails that "show the depth of personal relationships that ... Hassan developed and continued with both [women] over an extended period of time," the report says.

In testimony, one woman said Hassan pressed her to leave work and "come and celebrate with us" at Carlyle Grand, a restaurant in Arlington, Va. Later, he insisted on driving her home, touching her legs and feet during the trip and telling her it was all OK.

"He was just happy to touch me. ... [E]ven if it was just touching my feet, he just wanted to touch me," she said.

"Just wanted to touch your feet?" an IG investigator asked.

"Touch my feet, touch my legs," she answered. "He never, I mean this is just no sexual thing here, other than what his foot and leg fetish is."

She said Hassan tried to kiss her "on a couple of occasions," but she pushed him back.

"Yeah, I mean I ... he's 50-some-odd years old," she said. "I mean, do I look interested?"

The woman said the behavior became like a game, and if she went along with it - letting him in, drinking some wine with him, and letting him rub her feet - then Hassan "was fine" the next day.

"I was considered playing the game," she said.

In testimony included in the IG report, Hassan admitted to visiting the woman at her apartment - though not that night - but said that if he did drive her home, it would have been because she was too drunk to drive. He also admitted to drinking wine with her and rubbing her feet on occasion, but said it was never sexual in nature, but merely "like [when] people come in your office and rub your neck."

In testimony and e-mails apparently from a second woman on Hassan's staff, the general again is portrayed as a boss eager to socialize with his female subordinates and have them dress to his tastes.

"[His] favorite on me was the black skirt above the knee, the black hose and black heels," the woman told investigators.

Asked if Hassan ever told her to wear particular items, she said, "Yes, he did. He wanted the nylons with the garter belt."

"Whoa. Anything else, any bra color, lace bras, anything like that?" an investigator asked.

"No, he's a leg man," the woman said.

The witness told the IG that Hassan gave her a lingerie catalog and told her she should order garter belt-style hose.

The general, she claimed, made several attempts at a "huge pass" at her, including once pulling her into him, "that sort of thing ... it was well beyond the foot-rubbing thing," she said.

Asked if she ever had a physical attraction to Hassan, she said no.

"I can't express this enough. I have, have never had any interest in him at all on a physical or relationship level, period."

Hassan, in response to the allegations, denied trying to kiss her, beyond a "parting greeting, parting going" kiss on the cheek.

He also denied saying he loved her, but "I have definitely on many occasions said that I care an awful lot about her ... in that I, I cared about her, i.e., that she was somebody that was very special. She had a potential, she had a future, and I was happy to and glad to help her."

Beyond these after-hours liaisons, Hassan also sexually harassed women in his office, the IG investigation found. In some cases, this harassment came in the form of inappropriate discussions and physical contact, but Hassan also sent sexually explicit e-mail to women on his staff.

During mentoring sessions, Hassan talked to one female staff member about her personal appearance, her finances, relationships and off-duty activities.

The woman also testified that Hassan once asked her what she would say if he asked her to remove her shoes. When she said no, he responded, "You need to learn to give people what they want."

The report also describes a number of instances of Hassan forwarding sexually explicit e-mails, including jokes, to women in his office.

One woman said she saved the e-mails on a CD.

"Did I think that at some point this investigation was going to happen? Absolutely," she told investigators.

In explaining away the explicit e-mails, Hassan testified that he sent them because he thought they were funny, not sexual, and because he believed the recipients would consider them funny.

In its conclusions, the IG report notes that Hassan never addressed his responsibility as the senior officer in his office to set a proper example for his subordinates, nor acknowledged his role as a supervisor with significant input into his subordinates' performance reports, awards, assignments - all factors that may make subordinates feel they have to appease him or face unfavorable job actions.