Pentagon’s Secrecy Surrounding Defense Secretary Austin’s Hospitalization Sparks Concerns

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s hospitalization has raised concerns about transparency and communication within the Pentagon. The latest details released by the Pentagon shed light on Austin’s medical situation, revealing that he underwent a medical procedure on December 22 and was admitted to intensive care on January 1 due to severe pain. The statement from Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder did not disclose specific information about the procedure or the reasons behind Austin’s transfer to intensive care.

The lack of transparency regarding Austin’s hospitalization has drawn criticism from members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats. The fact that President Joe Biden and other senior leaders were not informed about Austin’s condition for several days has raised questions about the handling of the situation. This level of secrecy is at odds with standard practice when it comes to notifying the president and other senior officials about the health of cabinet members.

According to Ryder, the National Security Council and Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks were only notified on January 4, three days after Austin was admitted to the hospital. The delay was attributed to Austin’s chief of staff, Kelly Magsamen, being unavailable to make notifications due to illness. Hicks, who was on leave in Puerto Rico but had the necessary communication equipment, began preparing statements for Congress and making plans to return to Washington upon being notified.

Although the Pentagon did not provide an explanation for the temporary transfer of Austin’s duties to Hicks on Tuesday, such transfers are not uncommon and typically do not require detailed explanations. Hicks ultimately decided not to return to her duties once she learned that Austin would resume full control on Friday. Biden was informed about Austin’s hospitalization on Thursday, January 6, by the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.

In a statement issued on Saturday, Austin took responsibility for the delayed notification, acknowledging that there could have been better transparency. He emphasized that the decision to disclose details about his medical condition ultimately rested with him. Austin, who is 70 years old, remains hospitalized at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and it is unclear how long his recovery will take.

The episode has sparked concerns among lawmakers about trust in the Biden administration. Senator Roger Wicker, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called for a “full accounting of the facts immediately” from the Department of Defense. Representatives Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.), who respectively chair and serve as the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, expressed their concerns about the handling of the disclosure and urged Austin to provide additional details.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed support for Austin during a news conference in Qatar, describing him as an exceptional leader and expressing his hopes for Austin’s quick recovery. Ryder confirmed that Austin is fully capable of performing his duties, maintaining secure communications at Walter Reed, and providing guidance to his senior team. The Pentagon Press Association has also voiced its protest against the delayed public notification of Austin’s hospitalization.

The incident stands in stark contrast to the transparency demonstrated by other senior U.S. leaders when it comes to their own hospital stays. For instance, when Attorney General Merrick Garland underwent a routine medical procedure in 2022, his office informed the public in advance and provided details about the expected duration of his absence and his return to work.

In conclusion, the lack of transparency surrounding Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s hospitalization has raised concerns among lawmakers and observers. The delayed notification to President Joe Biden and other senior leaders, as well as the limited information provided about Austin’s medical procedure and condition, have resulted in calls for greater transparency and a full explanation of the situation. Austin’s statement taking responsibility for the lack of disclosure acknowledges the need for improvement and promises to provide more information moving forward. Meanwhile, Austin remains hospitalized, and details about his ailment and expected recovery are still unknown.