U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today praised U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's announcement that he is seeking to eliminate the ability of commanders to overturn serious court-martial convictions, such as those involving sexual assault. Congress must now take action to make these policy changes law.
"I am grateful that Secretary Hagel has lived up to his promise to seriously address the epidemic of sexual assault in our Armed Forces," Senator Boxer said. "This is the beginning of a long process to ensure that victims of military sexual assault--whether they are women or men--get justice. I look forward to continuing to work with Secretary Hagel and my colleagues to enact these important reforms to our military justice system."
Senator Boxer and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) wrote to Secretary Hagel on March 4 asking that "he take immediate steps to restrict Convening Authorities from unilaterally dismissing military court decisions" following a widely-condemned decision by an Air Force Lieutenant General to dismiss a case against Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson, a fighter pilot who was found guilty of sexual assault.
In the case, Lieutenant Colonel Wilkerson was convicted of aggravated sexual assault by a jury of his peers after he allegedly groped a physician assistant as she slept in a guest bedroom of his home last March. Lt Col Wilkerson was sentenced to a year in jail and dismissal from the Air Force after a trial last November. However, in his post-trial review of the case, Third Air Force Commander Lieutenant General Craig Franklin overturned the jury verdict and cleared Wilkerson of all charges, allowing him to be reinstated in the Air Force.
In their letter, the Senators wrote: "It is clear that despite sweeping reforms by the Department of Defense to improve prevention, investigation and prosecution of military sexual assaults--including adding specially trained legal personnel and Victim Advocates--these efforts become irrelevant when a case of this magnitude can be thrown out at the discretion of a Convening Authority."
The full text of Senator Boxer and Senator Shaheen's March 4 letter to Secretary Hagel is below:
The Honorable Charles T. Hagel
Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Hagel:
We are so pleased that your confirmation as Secretary of Defense is behind you and that you are now able to direct your full attention to protecting our country's national security.
During your Senate confirmation process, you pledged to take concrete steps to address the crisis of sexual assault within our nation's armed forces. Now, as you begin your work as Secretary of Defense, we ask you to immediately review a recent decision by an Air Force Lieutenant General to dismiss all charges against a field grade officer who had been convicted of sexual assault.
According to Stars and Stripes, Lieutenant General Craig Franklin dismissed a case against Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson, despite the fact that the fighter pilot had been found guilty of aggravated sexual assault, sentenced to a year in prison and dismissed from the Air Force. As we understand, General Franklin has not adequately explained why he chose to overturn a guilty verdict by a jury of high-ranking military officers, allowing Lt Col Wilkerson to be reinstated in the Air Force.
This is simply unacceptable and raises serious concerns about the military justice system as a whole. It is clear that despite sweeping reforms by the Department of Defense to improve prevention, investigation and prosecution of military sexual assaults--including adding specially trained legal personnel and Victim Advocates--these efforts become irrelevant when a case of this magnitude can be thrown out at the discretion of a Convening Authority.
This is a travesty of justice. At a time when the military has unequivocally stated that there is zero tolerance for sexual assault, this is not the message it should be sending to our service men and women, and to our nation.
As such, we ask that you immediately provide us detailed information regarding the basis for General Franklin's decision, including whether you have the authority to overturn the dismissal of the case. In addition, we urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to take immediate steps to restrict Convening Authorities from unilaterally dismissing military court decisions. We also ask that you work with us as we consider additional legislative options.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this critical matter. We look forward to your response and to meeting with you soon to discuss this and other matters concerning military sexual assault.
United States Senator
United States Senator