2013 was a year that was dominated by the issue of sexual assault and the military justice system’s handling of it. Last year’s top story is where much of this focus began. The horrible Invisible War “documentary” and its producers portrayed the military justice system as unable to handle sexual assault cases and advocated taking the decision in sexual assault cases out of the chain of command. And then came the Wilkerson decision.
On Nov. 5, 2012, LTC James Wilkerson was sentenced to a dismissal and one year confinement for the sexual assault of a house guest while stationed with his wife at Aviano AFB. On February 27, 2013, the convening authority in the case, Lieutenant General Craig Franklin exercised his authority under Art. 60, UCMJ and set aside the members’ findings and sentence in the case.
On the heels of The Invisible War and its supporters decrying the chain of command as a good ol’ boy network, General Franklin’s action sent them into a frenzy. Senators and congressmen immediately weighed in on the general’s action calling it “simply unacceptable and rais[ing] serious concerns about the military justice system as a whole.” Senators Boxer and Shaheen called on SecDef Hagel to, amusingly, “take immediate steps to restrict Convening Authorities from unilaterally dismissing military court decisions.” It was an amusing request because, of course, Congress gave CAs the power to set aside findings and sentences in Article 60(c), so it was really up to the Senators to change the law.
Meanwhile, the CA explained his actions in a thorough memo describing why he took his action, which didn’t help his cause or LTC Wilkerson’s at all. Even though he was in essence acquitted, LTC Wilkerson’s name was removed from the promotion list. And he did himself no favors when a month later it was discovered he had an extra-martial affair, prior to the alleged rape, and fathered a child with his mistress. Reports about the investigation say that it also revealed that LTC Wilkerson may have used US government property to further the affair by flying “home” to see the mistress. As Stars and Stripes reports, here, all this led to administrative proceedings against LTC Wilkerson, who chose to retire effective 1 Jan 2014. He’ll retire in the last grade which the Air Force determined that he satisfactorily served, as a Major. The Air Force FOIA page for the entire case and subsequent investigation is here, the investigation that led to LTC Wilkerson’s retirement as a Major is here.
General Franklin and now Major Wilkerson weren’t the only ones affected by the fallout from General Franklin’s Art. 60 decision. One of America’s most respected and decorated astronauts, Lieutenant General Susan Helms, raised the ire of Senators when she took similar action in a sexual assault case before her. As a result of that ire, her then pending nomination to be Vice Commander of Air Force Space Command was placed on permanent hold. Helms sadly withdrew her nomination and retired this year after Senators refused to put her nomination back on track.
General Franklin’s action was one of the more memorable actions of 2013 and set the stage for the reforms that Congress and the President recently enacted to strip CA’s of the power to overturn courts-martial findings, coverage here and here. Again, making this a no brainer in our Top 10.