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Hagel Wants to Take Power to Overturn Court-Martial Out of Commanders’ Hands

Major change to Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice is in response to one case that angered Boxer, other lawmakers.

by
Bridget Johnson

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April 8, 2013 - 6:12 pm
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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today unveiled plans to take the convening authority to reverse the findings of a court-martial out of the hands of commanders.

The sweeping change to Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice is in response to one case that outraged several members of Congress, including Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, the 31st Fighter Wing inspector general at Aviano Air Base, Italy, was accused in March 2012 of groping a party guest at his home while she slept. The woman, a civilian physician assistant, testified she awoke to feelings of “discomfort” and saw Wilkerson leaning over her. He was stripped of rank and sentenced to a year in the brig at Charleston, S.C.

Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of the Third Air Force in Ramstein, Germany, overturned the court-martial verdict against Wilkerson as the result of a clemency review, saying “there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In early March, Boxer and Shaheen pressured Hagel to “immediately review” the “simply unacceptable” decision.

“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,” they wrote.

“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.”

Three days later, Hagel, with a felt-tip pen slash through the formal greeting to “Senator Boxer” and the hand-scrawled salutation “Barbara,” affirmed that after a three-week review the convening authority “concluded that the entire body of evidence was insufficient to meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

However, Hagel continued, “I believe this case does raise a significant question whether it is necessary or appropriate to place the convening authority in the position of having the responsibility to review the finding and sentence of a court-martial, particularly prior to the robust appellate process made available by the UCMJ.”

The Defense chief, who added he likewise was “prepared” to work with Boxer on legislative changes, said he’d ordered a review to see “whether the case points to changes that should be considered in the UCMJ, or in the military services’ implementation of the UCMJ and, if so, what changes should be made.”

Today, Hagel revealed his decision: “I am directing the Office of General Counsel to prepare legislation for Congress to amend Article 60.”

The proposed changes are twofold: “First, eliminating the discretion for a convening authority to change the findings of a court-martial, except for certain minor offenses that would not ordinarily warrant trial by court-martial. While convening authorities would no longer have the ability to dismiss charges for serious offenses like sexual assault, defendants would continue to have access to a robust system of appeal rights,” Hagel said.

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Top Rated Comments   
Ah, here we go again. The "Sandy Hook" Shuffle - because of one lone event, sweeping changes *must* be made.

Funny how the changes lead directly to more Federal control of a thing.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (15)
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Just remember, don't call Babs Bouncer "Mam"!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Military is a heirarchial place. It must be so. The Commander has one overall responsibility; insuring the military effectiveness of his unit. Other factors, even sometimes justice, are secondary. This is the business of lives.

Allowing the Commander to set aside or reduce verdicts and sentences is a part of maintaining that effectiveness.

OTOH, I see no objection to requiring him to justify his actions, in writing, to his civilian superiors.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Ah, here we go again. The "Sandy Hook" Shuffle - because of one lone event, sweeping changes *must* be made.

Funny how the changes lead directly to more Federal control of a thing.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Well, that's part of the problem. Granted.

The other part of the problem goes quite a bit deeper than that. JAG? Most of them are left-wingers. The rest? Corruption, cronyism, nepotism...and worse. That's before you get into the idea that service members have no habeas corpus rights. You have no constitutional rights while on active duty. Guilt or innocence at every level is often decided on 'the good of the service' instead of evidence, proofs, facts, or any lack thereof. Your defense attourney? Don't expect him or her to rock the boat on your behalf. It ain't gonn ahappen. He'll put on a good show, at best. In any case, you're screwed before the court convenes. One way or the other, your case has already been decided before the court convenes, unless there's a lot of publicity involved. I learned a lot researching for The Haditha Marines and S/SGT Wuterich. I wasn't happy to learn it. The only reasoin -the ONLY reason- those men weren't buried in deep, dark holes is because of all of the publicity about those cases.

So, when someone wants to trash talk the military justice system, these days, I listen...even if it is Hagel who's doing the trashing.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If Chairman McKeon reallys wants to talk with Hagel, he can issue a subpeona. If guys like Hagel want to play games, then guys like McKeon need to bring the bat.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Like a subpoena would do any good. It would be nullified by an executive order.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
So, Chuck Hagel is going to let wingnut Barbara Boxer push him around....Wonderful.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
So, let me get this straight---Lady Democrats want to enable the War on Women.

Right?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Ah, good. More power to the politburo.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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