|Lt Col James W. Weirick, USMC (Ret)|
Lt Col James W. ("The") Weirick, USMC (Ret) has posted this essay on Task & Purpose. Under the title "A recent Air Force sexual assault case displayed the cascading problems with military justice," he comments in part:
Either commanders are equipped to make decisions on military-justice issues, or they are not. This authority cannot turn on the propriety of the decision as viewed by Pentagon. As [Military Judge Joshua E.] Kastenberg ruled, “Harding committed actual unlawful command influence.” Statements by [Air Force TJAG LtGen Richard] Harding to the press attempting to undermine the legitimacy of a judge’s ruling only underscore the improper influence that senior officials attempt to exert on what should be an independent judiciary.
This is not the first time Harding engaged in questionable conduct in an attempt to thwart the changes to the military justice system proposed by [Sen. Kirsten] Gillibrand.
Harding previously distributed a memorandum to all Air Force lawyers encouraging them to engage members of the media in support of keeping “commanders’ authority and the current set-up of the military justice system.” In the Wright case, Harding took his advocacy a step further by violating the law and influencing a court-martial.
Consider the havoc the delay in this case caused. The Air Force staff sergeant had to wait years to have her complaint heard in court. Similarly, Wright had to spend almost an entire enlistment with sexual assault charges hanging over his head. This delay also has an impact on units of both of these service members. It’s inexcusable for this case to have languished for over three years. The lockstep defenders of the current military-justice system, often point to the alleged efficiency of the UCMJ. Clearly this case was not efficiently brought to trial.
In comparison to the lengthy and tainted prosecution of Wright, a civilian jury convictedan Air Force cadet of sexual assault last week. The Air Force could have prosecuted this case, as cadets are subject to the UCMJ, but that prosecution was left to civilian authorities. The allegation was reported on Nov. 2, 2014; less than a year later, civilian authorities secured a conviction. So arguments that the military-justice system is more efficient or effective, as compared to civilian criminal prosecutions, does not withstand scrutiny.
As the military continues to defend the current military-justice system, the facts of this case must be considered. The senior lawyer in the Air Force committed unlawful command influence. If he cannot be trusted to not improperly interfere with a court-martial, what is the likelihood that an untrained military commander wouldn’t do the same?
I take no issue with the outcome of the Wright case. The members of the jury reviewed all of the evidence and rendered their verdict in accord with the law. The issues raised in this article relate solely to the questionable handling of this case by senior military officials.
None of the parties were served well in this case. Wright spent almost an entire enlistment with sexual assaults charges hanging over his head. The woman who reported that she was assaulted also had to wait over three years to have her complaint see the inside of a courtroom. Justice is never served when it takes this long to bring a case to trial.