Friday, March 21, 2014

US: Equity for Women in Uniform Violated Again by the UCMJ, Justice Now in the Hands of Members

According to The Associated Press, this has been a rough week on the US Armed Forces’ Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which outlines the procedural and substantive legal protocols that dictate how US military personnel conduct themselves on-duty and off-duty.

Seemingly, the court-martial of Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair USA has set the integration of men and women in America’s military service back decades if not centuries.

Just last week, the US Congress debated ways to curb a continuing crisis in today’s armed forces. The Senate even approved a measure to protect victims and bar the "good soldier defense" to ensure evidence alone determines a defendant's fate.

That being said, it appears that if you’re a uniformed woman in the US Armed Forces you best be looking over your shoulder 24/7 as the UCMJ definitely does have your back.

In Brig Gen. Sinclair's case, he had a three-year affair with a female captain under his command who accused her superior twice of forcing her to perform oral sex on him.

The case started to crumble as Sinclair's lawyers hammered away at the woman's credibility and raised questions about whether Sinclair's commander improperly pressed ahead with a trial because of political considerations — namely, a desire to show the Army's resolve to combat sexual misconduct.

Ultimately, Sinclair pleaded guilty to lesser charges of adultery and conducting inappropriate relationships with two others by asking women under his command for nude pictures of themselves and exchanging sexually explicit email.

Despite facing more than 20 years in prison, Sinclair was spared any time behind bars Thursday (March 20) and sentenced to a reprimand and a $20,000 fine, some Members of Congress decried as little more than a slap on the hand.

Sinclair, 51, immediately announced his retirement, capping an embarrassing fall from grace for a battle-tested commander who once showed great promise.

The good news is a disciplinary board of officer could still bust him in rank and significantly reduce his 0-7 retirement for life.

"The system worked. I've always been proud of my Army," Sinclair said outside court after reacting to his sentence with a smile and an embrace of his lawyers. "All I want to do now is go north and hug my kids and my wife."

COMMENT: How interesting it is of Sinclair to truly believe that hugging and kissing his children and wife will make everything better!

What the good General does not realize is that betrayed all that was important to him.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) called Sinclair's sentence "laughable."

"Even when the world is watching, the military has demonstrated their incompetence at meting out justice," Speier said in a statement. "This is another sordid example of how truly broken the military justice system is. This sentence is a mockery of military justice, a slap on the wrist nowhere close to being proportional to Sinclair's offenses."

The judge in the case, Col. James Pohl USA, did not explain how he arrived at a much lighter sentence.

Actually, explaining Colonel Pohl’s conduct is pretty simple. He is an 0-6 whereas at least for the moment Sinclair is still an 0-7, yet hopefully not for long. Then again, general's often have ways of getting a little "pay-back" for colonels. 

At the same time, the board of officers who will sentence Sinclair hopefully will peer into their souls and do what is right for the Army, rather than cutting a disgraced officer some slack.

If Sinclair had not announced his retirement, an Army disciplinary board surely would have mandated stepping down. 

Now the board will decide whether to demote him, which could cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars in pension benefits. Sinclair made about $145,000 a year in base pay.

A Pentagon report released last year estimated that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted in the prior year and that thousands of victims are unwilling to come forward out of fear their careers may be derailed.

Greg Jacob of the Service Women's Action Network said the case demonstrated the need for legislation that would strip commanders of the authority to prosecute cases and give that power to seasoned military lawyers.

The bill, backed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) failed earlier this month to get the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate. She is expected to bring the legislation back up later this year.

Although I fully subscribe to the notion that military commanders need to remain in charge of the administration of the UCMJ, creating an appellate review of all sexual misconduct charges by a disinterested party may be the only solution to achieving equity for women who are sexually harassed, assaulted and raped in the US Armed Forces.

Why is that the UCMJ routinely violates the rights of women serving honorably in the US military?

Presumably, 26,000 women in uniform being sexually assaulted in the US military in 2013, which apparently claims to be the best in the world, is not anecdotal.

A United States military jury (known as "Members") serve a function similar to an American civilian jury, but with several notable differences. Unlike civilian courts, "Members" of the panel are essentially "judge-and-jury." The panel, in addition to arriving at a verdict, also has the responsibility of deciding an appropriate punishment for the accused.