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Devils Lake Journal - Devils Lake, ND
  • As military sex cases end, more calls for change

  • At nearly the same time Thursday, sexual assault cases against an Army general and a former Naval Academy football player came to a close, and neither produced a conviction on that charge.
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  • The Associated Press
    FORT BRAGG, N.C. — At nearly the same time Thursday, sexual assault cases against an Army general and a former Naval Academy football player came to a close, and neither produced a conviction on that charge.
    Some members in Congress and advocates for women said the results were more proof the military justice system needs an overhaul.
    On the other side of the debate, people say the system worked like it was supposed to because, they say, neither case should have gone to trial in the first place.
    Still, no one disagreed the military has a pervasive problem of sexual assaults within its ranks, and the cases served as a reminder that politics was never far away from any decision.
    Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale, said military commanders who forged ahead with the trials were mindful of the political climate.
    "They are aware, trust me on this. They are aware the Senate will not confirm people to higher pay grade if they are believed to be soft on sexual offenses," Fidell said.
    Just last week, Congress debated ways to curb the assaults and the Senate approved a measure to protect victims and bar the "good soldier defense" to ensure evidence alone determines a defendant's fate, but the debate is far from over.
    Sexual assault charges were at the center of both cases, but they were far from the same.
    In Brig Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair's case, he had a three-year affair with a female captain who accused him of twice 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 them for nude pictures and exchanging sexually explicit email.
    Despite facing more than 20 years in prison, he was spared any time behind bars Thursday and sentenced to a reprimand and a $20,000 fine — a punishment some members of Congress decried as shockingly light.
    Sinclair, 51, immediately announced his retirement, capping a humiliating fall for the battle-tested commander once regarded as a rising star in the Army. A disciplinary board could still bust him in rank and severely reduce his pension.
    "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."
    Page 2 of 2 - Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., 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."
     
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