Sen. Claire McCaskill and several other U.S. senators have taken the lead to expose what they say in effect is a relaxed attitude by our military when it comes to sexual assault. Sen. McCaskill has raised the question of the authority of commanders to dismiss jury convictions against sex offenders.
She is proposing legislation that would curtail that authority while imposing new requirements that strengthen accountability in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. She has met with Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh about her concerns.
The case that brought this issue to a head involved an Air Force pilot, Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, who was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to a year in prison. He was convicted in a military trial by a jury. Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, reportedly against the advice of legal counsel, used his authority to dismiss the charges against Wilkerson, who was released from prison. His record was expunged of any wrongdoing. Wilkerson was reinstated and now is eligible for promotion.
Sen. McCaskill indicated in statements that the Air Force and high-ranking officers were taking care of their guy.
To begin with, Sen. McCaskill is right in bringing this incident to light. It was extremely poor judgment and wrong by the Air Force general to do what he did in freeing the pilot in the face of the military court that found him guilty. What message does this send to women serving in the military?
Sen. McCaskill has been an advocate for measures to deal with sexual assault in the military. She has been out front in other veterans’ matters, such as backing legislation aimed at improving the Department of Veterans Affairs’ process for evaluating posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) disability claims by military veterans. She also took action to respond to reports of sexual assault occurring at Fort Leonard Wood.
The Missouri senator included provisions in the 2012 and 2013 National Defense Authorization Acts that are designed to improve the military’s response to sexual assault and encourage the service to adopt training for sexual assault investigations developed at the Army’s Military Police School at Fort Leonard Wood.
In a hearing the past week, survivors of sexual assault testified before the Armed Service Committee.
Sen. McCaskill called rape a “crime of a coward.” A senior member of the committee, the senator said the focus of “our efforts should be on effective prosecution.” She added that a general should not be able to wipe out a verdict “with the stroke of a pen.”
Women have a place in our military. They need to be afforded protection from sexual assault. The Pentagon should review the actions by the Air Force general. If the authority provisions need to be changed, so be it. It is wrong for the military to shove this matter under the table by not doing anything.