Saturday, October 7, 2017

Do senior officers receive preferential treatment in military justice matters?

Toni Van Pelt, President of the National Organization for Women, has this OpEd which highlights once again the different treatment of many senior officers compared to junior officers and enlisted persons.
A front-page story in The Washington Post last week revealed one of the most egregious instances of sexual harassment and assault in the military – and an equally shocking cover-up.
A married Air Force colonel at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Alabama harassed a subordinate, investigators found, repeatedly telling her he wanted to have sex with her, tracking her movements, sending her recordings of him masturbating in the shower, texting her around the clock and twice physically assaulting her in his office.
Somewhat predictably, this officer was not prosecuted at court-martial. It is not clear if he received an Article 15, UCMJ, action.  But it is clear he retired, and a retired grade determination was made to allow him to retire as a lieutenant colonel.  There would be a significant loss of retirement income, but he didn't go to jail, and he's not a registered sex offender.

The piece raises the differential and deferential treatment of this colonel in support of Senator Gillibrand's efforts to remove non-lawyer commanders from deciding whether or not to prosecute a service-member, especially in cases of alleged sexual assault.  Of course, what we don't know is the position the lawyer-advisor staff judge advocate took regarding this colonel--perhaps he/she agreed with the disposition.
Congress has debated whether some of their powers should be ceded to military prosecutors, especially in sexual assault cases. The Pentagon has vigorously resisted, arguing that commanders need to retain their authority to maintain order and discipline in their units and that they receive plenty of advice from military lawyers."
As a side note, based on my own docket and that of my friends, I think there are more senior officers (and senior enlisted persons) facing court-martial for allegations of sexual assault than there were say two or three years ago.  See Craig Whitlock's article here.

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