WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has directed two separate reviews to ensure that the U.S. military justice system is appropriately protecting victims of sexual assault as well as dispensing justice to the accused, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said here today.
The orders are an outgrowth of a case against Air Force Lt. Col. James Wilkerson. Last year, a panel of military officers at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, found the colonel guilty of a sexual assault. The judge sentenced him to a year in prison and dismissal from the service.
Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, the 3rd Air Force commander, was the convening authority for the court-martial and reviewed the finished case and sentence. The general reviewed the case over a three-week period and used his authority under Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to dismiss the charges against Wilkerson.
“He concluded that the entire body of evidence was insufficient to meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Hagel wrote in a letter about the case to California Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Dismissing charges like this is rare, officials said, but not unheard-of. A commander is not required to give a reason for the decision, and the commander’s decision is final.
Hagel ordered the Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley and Robert Taylor, the Defense Department’s acting general counsel, to review the case against Wilkerson. He asked them “to assess whether all aspects of the UCMJ were correctly applied and to make recommendations on how the convening authority’s decision in this case could be more transparent,” Little said. Their report is due back to Hagel on March 20.
Hagel also ordered the acting general counsel to conduct a review of Article 60 of the UCMJ — the article covering the actions of the convening authority. Hagel is asking Taylor to provide an assessment of whether changes should be made in Article 60, and this assessment is due March 27.
Hagel has made it clear to military and civilian leaders that “eliminating sexual assault in the military is one of his top priorities,” Little said.
“Sexual assault is a serious crime that has no place in the department and he will not tolerate it,” he added. “Any member of the military that is convicted of sexual assault — no matter his rank or position — must be held appropriately accountable.”
U.S. service members must know that “they are protected from criminal assault by a system of laws that function promptly, fairly and justly,” Little said.