Airman here faces questions in inquiry

People walk past Hotel El Caribe in Cartagena, Colombia, late Thursday April 19, 2012. Eleven Secret Service employees are accused of misconduct in connection with a prostitution scandal at the hotel last week before President Barack Obama's arrival for the Summit of the Americas. The identities of two Secret Service supervisors who have been pushed out of the agency in the wake of the scandal have been revealed.(AP Photo/Pedro Mendoza)

The Charleston Air Force Base airman implicated in the Colombian prostitution scandal will be interviewed by the Pentagon’s lead investigator during a visit this week, officials confirmed Monday.

While little about the airman is being released, the U.S. Southern Command said an unidentified Air Force colonel will question the airman about his involvement in after-hours events reported in Cartagena.

That includes matching up facts and collecting interviews to corroborate what happened.

The airman, identified only as a member of the enlisted ranks, has the right to have an attorney present during the interview.

“It is too early to say what misconduct the individuals under investigation may or may not have done,” Army Col. Scott Malcom, chief spokesman for the Southern Command headquartered in Miami, told The Post and Courier in an email.

Malcom did not know what day the visiting colonel will arrive in Charleston, but he said a military lawyer who could help determine possible charges will be with him.

The visit illustrates what many see as an expedited move by the Pentagon after a dozen members of the Secret Service and 11 military personnel are alleged to have been involved in excessive drinking, partying and engaging with prostitutes ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit to a the Summit of the Americas.

The military members identified so far include five Army Green Berets, two Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) technicians, two Marine dog handlers and the Charleston airman.

All were on temporary assignments.

Charleston base spokesman Capt. Wayne Capps confirmed Monday that the airman has legal representation lined up for the interview, but said the airman’s attorney declined to be identified or to speak with the media in advance.

Joint Base Charleston is home to some 8,200 active- duty Navy and Air Force personnel who have varying duties, expertise and responsibilities, some of which would be highly valuable in the setup to a presidential visit. That includes two Air Force EOD units and one that specializes in K-9 security.

Some of the charges being reviewed by the Department of Defense include possible violations of military conduct, ranging from breaking curfew to entertaining prostitutes.

While a curfew violation could be considered a minor infraction, involvement with prostitutes is considered a major breach of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The maximum penalty for prostitution or patronizing a prostitute includes one year of confinement, a dishonorable discharge and loss of pay and benefits.

The fact that any involvement with prostitutes occurred overseas would not be considered a legitimate defense, Malcom said.

“Whether or not prostitution is ‘legal’ in a foreign country or even a U.S. state is an irrelevant consideration, in terms of the UCMJ,” he added. “Those who are subject to this code are bound by it, globally.”

Once all the interviews are finished, the visiting colonel’s report will be submitted to Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, who is in charge of Southern Command, for further review and possible action. No timetable has been set.

Political Editor

Schuyler Kropf is The Post and Courier political editor. He has covered every major political race in South Carolina dating to 1988, including for U.S. Senate, governorship, the Statehouse and Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.