It’s hard to believe that nearly 230 years after the U.S. Army was founded, our military is still abandoning service members in need. Hopefully, a shameful era in U.S. military history is about to end.
Right now, and for untold decades, a commanding officer has had the right to reverse criminal convictions of service members; but now it appears that gaping loophole in the Uniform Code of Military Justice will be closed.
Members of both political parties have indicated support for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s recent proposal to essentially strip commanding officers of their ability to reverse criminal convictions in military courts.
The case that drew their wrath was that of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, a former inspector general at Aviano Air Base in Italy. He was found guilty last year of charges of abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault and three instances of conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman. The incident involved a female contractor.
Wilkerson was sentenced to a year in prison and dismissal from the service. But Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of the 3rd Air Force at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, overturned the jury’s guilty verdict. Franklin said he said he found Wilkerson and his wife more believable than the alleged victim - and usurped the entire system.
This is hardly new ground. Congress has repeatedly criticized the military’s lack of resolve in fighting sexual assault in its ranks, an offense considered far more prevalent than the reported 3,192 cases in 2011, the most recent figure available. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said because so few victims report the crime, the real number is closer to 19,000 assaults. That’s staggering.
Women have served in the military in one way or another beginning in 1775. The first enlisted women formally entered the Regular Army in July of 1948; currently, women serve in 95 percent of all Army occupations and make up about 15.7 percent of the Active Army.
To deny them justice, particularly in cases of sexual assault, is the moral equivalent of leaving the wounded behind. Women have long said just getting a charge levied is a victory; to have a verdict arbitrarily reversed is like being assaulted all over again.
This is not what the U.S. military is all about and it cannot continue. Women volunteer just as their male counterparts do, and many more women are seeing combat-related duty than ever before.
They deserve — and Congress and the Obama administration must demand — equal treatment.