(Washington, D.C.) – Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is outraged and disappointed over the outcome of two military sexual abuse cases last week. "Last week MST victims were dealt a setback in their quest for justice when two decisions were announced in which complainants had to accept the ruling of the self-serving chain of command," said John Rowan, National President of VVA.
On March 20, a military judge found a former Navy football player not guilty of sexually assaulting a female classmate at an off-campus party. The judge referred lesser charges of lying to investigators back to the academy to handle internally. Cmdr. John Schofield, an academy spokesman, said Thursday that the remaining charges were being dropped in exchange for Tate's agreement "to accept the most serious form of punishment a midshipman can receive through the conduct system, a dismissal from the Naval Academy."
In the more high-profile of the cases, Maj. General Jeffrey Sinclair, former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne, originally had faced sexual assault charges involving a junior officer. But the case against him fell apart after the trial judge ruled that the decision to seek trial might have been influenced by "'political considerations."
Sinclair was prosecuted at a time when the military is under pressure from Congress and victim advocates for not doing enough to stem a rise in sexual abuse within the ranks. Army prosecutors did not ask for jail time for Sinclair, although the crimes he admitted to carried a potential prison term. Instead, prosecutors urged the trial judge, Col. James Pohl, to dismiss the general, a move that would have denied him his pension and veteran benefits. Sinclair's team of lawyers said that a dismissal, with the loss of a pension, would hurt the defendant's wife and two children. Under a plea agreement reached last weekend before sentencing, the trial judge was limited to imposing only an 18-month prison sentence; however, Pohl chose no confinement.
VVA asks the question: "What role did Lt. General Joseph Anderson, the commanding general at Fort Bragg at that time, play in this case?" If Lt. General Anderson was involved – as was strongly suggested in a March 20 USA Today article – then VVA demands a renewed effort to pass Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-NY) Military Justice Improvement Act, which would take crimes like military sexual assault and other major crimes out of the chain of command in the military justice system, a justice system that is beholden to the whims of a commander, and would ensure victims a better opportunity to seek justice.
VVA believes that the Sinclair case and the Naval Academy case are examples of what's wrong with the military justice system. Senator Gillibrand's bill would ensure victims a better opportunity to seek justice, and it's well past time for this reform to become law.