Not Legally Correct . . . - The Missourian: Columns

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Not Legally Correct . . .

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Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 6:00 pm

President Barack Obama, a member of the politically correct generation, hasn’t learned what is legally correct in his position as commander in chief of the most powerful military force in the world. By his words he didn’t intend to complicate military trials, but he has.

When the sexual abuse cases were exploding all around the military, the commander in chief said that those persons who commit those crimes should be “prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged.” Little did he realize that he was prejudicing pending cases and future court-martial trials for these crimes.

It sounded good, was a warning and what a good commander might say privately under those circumstances. However, he and his inner circle didn’t realize the legal ricocheting that would occur.

According to a New York Times story Sunday, what the president said has muddied legal cases across the country. Judges and defense lawyers have said that the president’s words as commander in chief amounted to “unlawful command influence.” The influence that commanders have on differing levels is that they can grant pardons to those troops under them who have been convicted in sexual abuse cases. Now the commander in chief is guilty of about the same thing as far as influence is concerned in these types of cases, according to judges and defense attorneys. There is the difference of prosecutions and pardons, of course. The president’s words are certain to complicate almost all prosecutions for sexual assault.

“The president’s remarks might have seemed innocuous to civilians, but military law experts say defense attorneys will seize on the president’s call for an automatic dishonorable discharge, the most severe discharge available in a court-martial, arguing that his words will affect their cases,” The Times article said.

It is the specific nature of the commander in chief’s words on a dishonorable discharge that has legal experts concerned. What the president said already has had an effect on cases.

The White House counsel said the president “was not trying to be prescriptive.” We don’t doubt that. But, in fact, he was. He, in a strong sense, ordered a punishment.

It is too early in the aftermath of the commander in chief’s words to know how many judges will grant dismissals. However, it’s safe to say it’s going to happen more than it already has.

We can understand the commander in chief’s anger over the disclosure that an estimated 26,000 men and women were sexually assaulted in the military in 2012. More than 1,600 cases of sexual assault are pending in the military.

Since those figures have been made public, an alarmed military is acting to end the abuses and is trying to establish a strict accountability code.

Sad to say, as long as men and women are serving closely together, the military is going to have this problem.

/opinion/columns

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