Posts Tagged With: Convening Authority

Hard Cases Make Bad Law. Dissatisfaction With One Case, No Reason To Change Military Code Of Justice.

 

Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of the 3rd Air Force at Ramstein Air Base in Germany convened a court-martial to try Lt. Col. James Wilkerson III on charges of, among other things, sexual assault of a female, not his wife. Lt. Col. Wilkerson was tried by a jury and found guilty as charged. In performing his duties as Convening Authority under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), Lt. Gen. Franklin set aside the sexual assault conviction.

 

The February 2013 decision ignited a firestorm on Capitol Hill and drew scrutiny to the separate set of laws governing military members, known as the UCMJ. Following his review of the case, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel proposed removing the convening authority from commanders in major cases.

(He did not specify what he thought would constitute a major case.)

 

Lt. Gen. Franklin defended his decision in a six-page letter he submitted to the service in response to the uproar. He said accusations that his motivation was to protect a fellow fighter pilot are “preposterous.” Accusations that he doesn’t understand sexual assault or take the crime seriously “are complete and utter nonsense,” he wrote. Allegations that his decision was influenced by his previous role commanding a unit the pilot later served in “are equally preposterous,” he wrote.

 

In the letter, Franklin, says he struggled with the decision. However, after he reviewed the evidence, he found the defendant, Lt. Col. James Wilkerson III, and his wife, Beth, more credible than the alleged victim, Ms Kimberly Hanks, who has since come forward publicly to discuss the matter.

Approving the jury’s finding of guilt “would have been an act of cowardice,” Franklin wrote. “I hold a genuine and reasonable doubt that Lt. Col. Wilkerson committed the crime,” he wrote. “My court-martial action to disapprove findings and to dismiss the charges was the right, the just, and the only thing to do.”

 

Wilkerson, then the inspector general at Aviano Air Base in Italy and a former F-16 pilot, was found guilty of multiple charges to include aggravated assault. He was sentenced to a year in prison and dismissal from the service before Franklin overturned the conviction.

 

Ms Hanks accused him of fondling her breasts and genitalia as she slept in his guest bedroom, according to court documents. The two met at a club with groups of friends after a rock concert that was held on base, organized by the USO and featuring the alternative rock band, Seether, according to her testimony.

 

Ms Hanks is a divorcee. She worked as a civilian contractor in the medical clinic on the base. She alleged that she previously did not know Lt. Col.Wilkerson but some how she wound up at his home in Roverado. Ms Hanks said she awoke in a bedroom with Lt. Col.Wilkerson when his wife entered the room, turned on the lights and said: “What the hell is going on?”

 

Ms Hanks testified that the woman then ordered her to, “Get the hell out of my house.”

In his letter, Lt. Gen. Franklin said he was persuaded in part by the many letters of clemency from family, friends and colleagues of the Lt. Col. Wilkersons that “painted a consistent picture of a person who adored his wife and 9-year-old son, as well as a picture of a long-serving professional Air Force officer.”

 

Lt. Gen. Franklin also makes a point to cast doubt on Lt. Col. Wilkerson’s failed polygraph test.

“A polygraph is only an investigative tool to assist in the potential focus of the investigation and/or to attempt to elicit admissions of guilt,” he wrote. “It is not a ‘lie-detector test,’ nor is it ‘pass’ or ‘fail.’ Because of the inherent unreliability of polygraphs, they are entirely inadmissible in a court-martial.”

 

As one would expect, lawmakers and supporters of sexual-assault victims were shocked by Lt. Gen. Franklin’s letter.

 

“This explanation crystalizes exactly why the convening authority should not have the unilateral ability to overturn a jury verdict — and why we need legislation that restricts their ability to do so,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said in a statement. “This letter is filled with selective reasoning and assumptions from someone with no legal training, and it’s appalling that the reasoning spelled out in the letter served as the basis to overturn a jury verdict in this case.”

 

In light of the case, McCaskill introduced legislation that would curtail the authority of military commanders to dismiss jury convictions against sex offenders.

 

Protect Our Defenders, a nonprofit based in Burlingame, Calif., called for Lt. Gen. Franklin to be dismissed from the military. “Lt. Gen. Franklin made a deeply flawed and inappropriate decision,” the group’s president, Nancy Parrish, said in a statement. “Rather than rely on the credibility determinations of the senior members of the jury he selected, Franklin chose to accept the word of Wilkerson’s supporters.”

 

Lt. Col. Wilkerson will remain on active duty and is being transferred to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., where he will become chief of flight safety for the 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern), according to Master Sgt. Kelly Ogden, a spokeswoman for the unit. He is expected to arrive later this month or in early May.

 

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on April 8 said he would ask Congress to pass legislation that would prevent commanders from overturning convictions without explanation.

In 2011, less than half of the reported 3,200 sexual assaults in the military resulted in disciplinary action, according to the Defense Department. The number of actual sexual assaults each year is probably closer to 19,000, based on anonymous surveys of active-duty service members.

 

 

                       (U. S. Air Force Academy cadets charged with sexual assault.)

 

The number of sexual assaults at military academies has been on the rise. No cadet tried or convicted of sexual assault has had his conviction set aside by the Convening Authority.

Sexual assault reports at the Air Force Academy jumped nearly 60 percent during the last academic year while the prevalence of the crime remained about the same, according to a new Defense Department study.

The results, which mirror the two other service institutions — the Military Academy and the Naval Academy — signal greater victim confidence but show that efforts to reduce sexual assaults among future military leaders have been unsuccessful.

Air Force cadets made 52 sexual assault reports during the 2011-2012 year, up 58 percent from 33 in 2010-2011. They also accounted for 65 percent of the 80 reports made at all three academies, despite sim­ilar student populations.

In 44 of the 80 reports, victims said they were victimized by a fel­low cadet or midshipman, the study said. Twenty-five incidents occurred on academy grounds.

 

 

 

(U. S. Coast Guard Academy cadet, Webster Smith)

A cadet at the U. S. Coast Guard Academy was convicted of sexual assault in 2006. It was the first court-martial of a cadet in the history of the U. S. Coast Guard. Cadet Webster Smith was only six months away from graduating when he was accused, tried, and convicted. He protested his innocence. His case was appealed all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court refused to grant a review of the conviction. Cadet Smith’s petition was dismissed without comment by the Supreme Court.

 

 

 

The Webster Smith Story is an American tragedy. It is not just the story of a Coast Guard Academy cadet; it is the story of an American family. To his classmates, teachers, and coaches at the Coast Guard Academy Webster Smith appeared to be a magnetic, charming and gifted man, who had risen above his circumstances. Yet, in a moment, as if in the twinkling of an eye, a swift series of events diminished his popularity, vilified his name, and assailed his honor. His image was converted by senior Coast Guard officers from a popular athlete and nice guy to that of a sexual predator and public enemy number one at the Coast Guard Academy. The Webster Smith case was a litmus test for justice in America.

 

                                              (Ariana Klay, former USMC officer)

Lt. Ariana Klay, a U. S. Naval Academy graduate, served as a protocol officer for the U. S. Marine Corps Barracks, Washington, DC. She alleged that while there, she was sexually harassed by a lieutenant colonel, a major and a captain. She said she was gang-raped by a Marine officer and his civilian friend, a former Marine.

Lt. Klay alleged that the Marine officer threatened to kill her and told his friend he would show him “what a slut she was” and “humiliate” her. After she reported the alleged rapes and subsequent harassment, the Marine Corps investigation ruled that she welcomed the harassment because “she wore makeup, regulation-length skirts as a part of her uniform and exercised in running shorts and tank tops.”

The Marine Corps did not punish any of those who were accused of sexually harassing Lt. Klay. One of her alleged harassers was granted a waiver by the Corps that permitted him to get a security clearance despite accusations of hazing and sexual misconduct against not only Lt.  Klay but many others. He was selected to be in a nationally televised recruitment commercial while he was still under investigation.

The Marine Corps finally court-martialed one of Lt. Klay’s alleged attackers but didn’t convict him of rape, instead finding him guilty of adultery and indecent language (a common escape by military courts from the rape charge). The military court ruled that Lt.  Klay “consented” to having sex with the men despite the evidence that the accused threatened to kill her.Lt. Klay has attempted suicide since the alleged rapes and harassment and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Categories: Military Justice | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Force Factor In Sexual Assault Cases.

Force Was the Deciding Factor In The Rape Case.

The use of force appears to have been the deciding factor for the Convening Authority in the Air Force Academy sexual assault Article 32 Investigation. Anyone who used force in the sexual assault was referred for trial by court-martial; whereas, anyone who was patient and waited for the alcohol to take its toll was allowed to go scott free.
That is so ironic, because the only one who achieved vaginal penetration with his organ was allowed to go free. He dodged a bullet. However, on the other hand, the cadet who used his fists in the act of sexual assault never got further than heavy petting and massaging of the genitalia.

The Cadet Kyle Cressy incidents date to May 2011. The charges state that he penetrated a female cadet’s vagina with his hand or finger, as well as his penis, while she was “substantially incapacitated.” Cressy’s charges have been dropped by the Air Force Convening Authority on the recommendation of the Article 32 Investigating Officer. Cressy’s accuser said she passed out on his bed, then awoke to find a man touching and then having sex with her. She testified that she kissed him before blacking out and never said “no” — and while she recalled trying to push his hands away, the mitigating evidence, combined with a two-day delay before she reported having been assaulted, appear to have been factors in the Convening Authority’s, Brigadier General Richard Clark’s, decision to drop the charges against him.

Air Force officials say testimony about alcohol consumption was among the reasons they decided not to prosecute Cressy on sexual assault charges. In a statement released 5 March the Academy spokesperson said Article 32 Investigating Officer assigned to Cressy’s case found no reasonable grounds to prosecute. He cited testimony that the alleged victim wrote and sent a text message that she couldn’t recall, and expert testimony that it’s possible for someone to consent to sex and suffer an alcohol blackout preventing recall of the event.

Cadet Stephan Claxton, AFA Class 2013, was charged with illicit acts in March and November of last year. In the first, he’s said to have placed a cadet’s hand on his penis while engaging in underage drinking. In the second, he is accused of striking a fellow cadet on the face with his fist and unbuttoning and unzipping her pants without her consent, as well as forcibly kissing and choking her. Claxton was recommended for court martial buy the Article 32 Investigating Officer.

The court-martial was recommended by Maj. Gen. Richard Clark, Commandant of Cadets and the academy’s special court-martial convening authority. The decision is pending with Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, Superintendent and the Academy’s General Court-martial Convening Authority. Vice Superintendent Col. Tamara Rank said, “We expect the best from our cadets and do not tolerate unacceptable behaviors.”
The Cressy and Claxton hearings concluded with very different results.

The Article 32 hearing for Cadet First Class Robert M. Evenson, Class of 2011, is still under way. Evenson had three charges preferred against him in January for allegations of engaging in an unprofessional relationship, rape, aggravated sexual assault contact and indecent acts and conduct unbecoming to an officer.

Three additional charges were preferred against him last month and are under investigation. They include wrongful sexual contact and indecent acts, stalking and assault.
It appears that force and the use of force will be the new battle ground in the battle between women and the military when it comes to disposing of rape and sexual assault allegations.
In a major law suit filed by 8 present and former US Marine Corps female officers, the use of physical force is being challenged as an unnecessary element in the proof of the offense. The women argue that proof of force should not be necessary in the modern world. They argue that modern rapists are more methodical and patient; they wait for the drugs or alcohol to lower the females capacity to give or withhold consent. Once the ability to give informed consent is so impaired then the women can be raped and the rapist is left with plausible deniability if the case is prosecuted.
The women and their attorney seek to change the UCMJ and the military male-dominated culture on the issue of force in the conduct of rape and sexual assault. They want to rewrite Article 120 of the UCMJ to remove proof of the use of force as an element of the crime.
In the Webster Smith Case force was not an issue. All of the sexual encounters were found to be consensual. The Coast Guard prosecutor was reduced to trying to prove that psychological coercion was used to persuade a female to take nude pictures and perform a sexual act. Amazingly this woman’s reputation in the community since high school was that of a person with easy virtue who delivered the good faster than Federal Express. The very nature of her secret that was at the heart of the alleged coercion was about a sexual tryst with an enlisted man from another branch of the service. And to top it all off, the woman was testifying under a grant of immunity. Truly amazing, it is hard to make this stuff up.
A press conference was held at the National Press Conference Tuesday March 6, 2012 to announce a new lawsuit being filed in the US District Court in Washington, DC on behalf of eight current and former members of the Navy and Marine Corps. The lawsuit, filed by Susan L. Burke of Burke PLLC, charges that the “laws designed to reduce rape, sexual assault and harassment in the Navy and Marine Corps directly and seriously harmed Plaintiffs and others who have reported rape and sexual assault and have challenged sexual harassment. Rather than being respected and appreciated for reporting crimes and unprofessional conduct, Plaintiffs and others who report are branded ‘troublemakers,’ endure egregious and blatant retaliation, and are often forced out of military service.”

The lead plaintiffs, Adriana Klay and Elle Helmer, stationed at the central command headquarters of the Marines in Washington, DC, are both former Marine officers. Klay was a merit scholar and is an honors graduate of the US Naval Academy. She was sexually harassed and gang raped by a senior Marine Corps officer and his civilian friend in order to “humiliate her.” Elle Helmer, the Public Affairs Officer and Official Spokesperson for the Marines, was ordered to participate in a “pub crawl” by her immediate superior officer and then raped by him.

Speakers at the press conference included Susan Burke, Eleanor Smeal, Anu Bhagwati, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), Linda Hallman, Executive Director of American Association of University Women (AAUW), Nancy Parrish, President of Protect our Defenders, and Colonel Ann Wright, who is retired from the military.
“Although defendants testified before Congress and elsewhere that they have ‘zero tolerance’ for rape and sexual assault, their conduct and the facts demonstrate the opposite: They have a high tolerance for sexual predators in their ranks, and ‘zero tolerance’ for those who report rape, sexual assault and harassment,” according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington.

The suit outlines a pattern of abuse and portrays, in grim detail, the alleged experiences of the eight female service members — two former Marine Corps officers, one active duty enlisted Marine, one former enlisted member of the Marine Corps and four former enlisted members of the Navy.

“At first it was easy to laugh it off,” plaintiff Elle Helmer, one of the former officers, said about her superiors’ advances.
“When you finally said, you know, I’m really not interested, I’d rather we be friends — that’s when you became the target. They hated you for standing up for yourself,” she told HLN’s Jane Velez-Mitchell on Tuesday night.

The lawsuit alleges Helmer was raped by her superior at his office in March 2006 after a required pub crawl.

She told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington earlier in the day that she hoped by going public other victims would be encouraged to speak out.

“We all just wanted to serve our country and be good Marines and service members,” former Marine Lt. Elle Helmer said. “Ultimately we were failed.”

Helmer is one of eight current and former female service members who filed a lawsuit alleging rape, sexual assault and harassment while serving in the military.

Click here to read the entire lawsuit

“It’s very hard to come forward and admit what they would call weakness, but what I would call strength in the sense that people are coming forward and asking for help,” Helmer said.

She claims her assault occurred while stationed at the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington, DC, as a public affairs officer.

She says after being ordered to attend a Marine Corps-endorsed pub crawl and drink excessively, her boss, a major, ordered her back to his office and raped her.

“Ultimately I fell and hit my head on the corner of his desk and was knocked out,” she said. “During the time I was knocked out was when the rape occurred.”

Helmer says she was ultimately forced out of the Marine Corps, which she says is far too common with other victims.

“The Department of Defense is ultimately losing good personnel, and victims are becoming collateral damage,” Helmer said.

The lawsuit claims many of the men questioned were barely punished, if at all. It’s an issue Helmer says goes beyond the service women who report the assaults.

“My rapist was served collateral duties at the White House,” she said. “With that said, these people guard the president.”

Helmer says she hopes the lawsuit is a catalyst for change and the military realizes how big this problem really is.

“Take care of your people, and if you’re losing your people, it’s ultimately weakening a nation. It’s a homeland security issue,” she said.

“It’s the first time I’ve had a voice in six years, so pardon if it’s a little wobbly,” said Helmer.

She was joined by Ariana Klay, another former Marine Corps officer and plaintiff, who served in Iraq in 2008 and 2009.

In August 2010, Klay was “gang-raped” by a senior officer and his civilian friend at her Washington home, the suit contends. The officer allegedly threatened to kill Klay.

She reported the rapes and the officer was eventually convicted in a military court of adultery and indecent language, and given 45 days in military confinement, Klay said.

“Their stance was there were two that said it (sex) was consensual, despite the death threat. That’s two against one. So by that logic, the more people you’re gang-raped by the less your case is,” she told Velez-Mitchell.

The Marine Corps responded to Klay and Helmer’s allegations in a written statement Tuesday that said their respective cases had been properly investigated and handled.

“Federal law and judicial rulings require commanders in all services, including the Marine Corps, to balance needs of alleged victims with the constitutional rights of service members accused of crimes,” it read.
Smeal asserted, “The women’s movement is determined to end this wonton violence against women in the armed services. The definition of rape in the military must change to comply with the new FBI definition, which has recognized that force need not be present, but rather in modern rape alcohol and drugs are used to subdue the victim. The cover-up for a few predator abusers in the military is injuring women, men, and the armed services themselves.”

The Pentagon’s “Fiscal Year 2010 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military” indicated that approximately 3,000 women experienced sexual assault in fiscal year 2008, which is a 9 percent increase from the previous year. Experts say that the real rate of sexual assault in the military is five times report incidence. Because of the high level of retaliation, victims are afraid to report. For women in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rate of sexual assaults by US military personnel increased by 25 percent.

According to a 2003 study by the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, at least one-third of all women veterans have experienced rape or sexual assault during their service primarily from US service personnel, and thirty percent of military women experience domestic violence. Moreover, rape occurs in the military nearly twice as often as in the civilian world.
According to the most recent Defense Department study, more than 19,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact are estimated to have occurred in 2010, though less than 3,000 of those events were reported.

In 2010, less than 21% of reported cases went to trial. Of the 529 alleged perpetrators who were prosecuted, 53% were convicted, according to the 2011 Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, which is part of the Defense Department.

“As leaders of this department we are committed to doing everything we can to ensure the safety, dignity and well being of our people. One sexual assault is one too many,” Defense Department spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said in response to the lawsuit.

As a result of the pending litigation, she was unable to comment directly on the allegations.

“Because sexual assault cases are some of the toughest cases to investigate and prosecute, the department has increased funding for investigators and judge advocates to receive specialized training,” said Smith.

The lawsuit was filed less than two months after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta outlined new measures targeting sexual assaults against U.S military personnel.

In January, he promised increased funding to train military investigators and judge advocates about sexual assault cases, stressing the military has a “zero tolerance policy” for such crimes.

“Our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line every day to try to keep America safe,” Panetta said then. “We have a moral duty to keep them safe from those who would attack their dignity and their honor.”
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Did Bradley Manning Expose War Crimes or Commit War Crimes?

HAGERSTOWN, Md. – Military District of Washington Commander Major General Michael Linnington is the Convening Authority (CA) in the case of U.S. vs Pfc Bradley Manning. He has taken the recommendation of the Article 32 Investigating Officer (IO) and referred all charges against Pfc. Bradley Manning to a General Court-martial. Manning is a low-ranking intelligence analyst charged in the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history.

This means Pfc. Manning will stand trial for allegedly giving more than 700,000 secret U.S. documents and classified combat video to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks for publication.

Manning is a 24-year-old native from Crescent, Oklahoma. He faces 22 charges, including aiding the enemy. A General Court-martial has the power to impose the death penalty. The Convening Authority has said that it has taken the death penalty off the table. So, the maximum punishment that Manning faces if convicted is life imprisonment.

A judge who is yet to be appointed will set the trial date. The military judge will immediately face a “speedy trial” issue. Under the UCMJ, Uniform Code Of Military Justice, an accused must be brought to trial within 120 days of the preferral of charges.

Manning’s lead defense counsel, is a civilian attorney, David Coombs.

Defense lawyers say Manning was clearly a troubled young soldier whom the Army should never have deployed to Iraq or given access to classified material while he was stationed there from late 2009 to mid-2010.

At a preliminary hearing in December, military prosecutors produced evidence that Manning downloaded and electronically transferred to WikiLeaks nearly half a million sensitive battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, and video of a deadly 2007 Army helicopter attack that WikiLeaks shared with the world and dubbed “Collateral Murder.”

Manning’s lawyers countered that others had access to Manning’s workplace computers. They say he was in emotional turmoil, partly because he was a gay soldier at a time when homosexuals were barred from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces.

The DADT (Don’t ask, Don’t Tell) policy of the military will loom large as part of the defense strategy. It is possible that the Defense Witness List would include the names of such people as retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullens.

On February 2, 2010, Admiral Mike Mullen and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that they fully support President Obama’s decision to end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which prevented openly gay people from serving in the military. “It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do,” Mullen said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “No matter how I look at the issue…I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens…For me, it comes down to integrity – theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”

The defense also claims Manning’s apparent disregard for security rules during stateside training and his increasingly violent outbursts after deployment were red flags that should have prevented him from having access to classified material. Manning’s lawyers also contend that the material WikiLeaks published did little or no harm to national security.

In the December hearing at Fort Meade, Md., prosecutors also presented excerpts of online chats found on Manning’s personal computer that allegedly document collaboration between him and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Federal prosecutors in northern Virginia are investigating Assange and others for allegedly facilitating the disclosures.

The Bradley Manning Support Group, which contends Manning heroically exposed war crimes, issued a statement calling his prosecution “fundamentally unjust.”

“This administration owes all Americans an honest explanation for their extraordinary retaliation against Bradley Manning,” said Jeff Paterson, one of the group’s lead organizers.

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