President Obama’s comments condemning military sexual assault and suggesting that those convicted be punished with, among other things, a dishonorable discharge may be backfiring on his efforts to root out the growing problem.
In pretrial hearings in two cases, a Navy judge in Hawaii ruled this
week that Obama had exerted “unlawful command influence” as
commander-in-chief in outlining the specific “consequences” he saw fit
for members of the military convicted of sexual assault.
As a result of Navy Judge Cmdr. Marcus Fulton’s rulings, the
defendants in United States v. Johnson and United States v. Fuentes
can’t be punitively discharged, even if they’re convicted of sexual
assault. Stars and Stripes first reported on the rulings.
“I expect consequences,” Obama said at a press conference in early
May that came just as the Pentagon released a report detailing rising
incidences of sexual assaults in 2012. “So I don’t just want more
speeches or awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look
the other way. If we find out somebody’s engaging in this, they’ve got
to be held accountable — prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court
martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.”
Fulton wrote in his ruling that Obama’s comments raise “concern”
because they “may indicate that a particular result is required of the
military justice system.”
As soon as Obama made his off-the-cuff comment, military lawyers
began to voice concern that his comments might be detrimental. “I
thought of the unlawful command influence issue as soon as he spoke,”
said James Mackler, a private attorney and Army reserve lawyer who was
involved in sexual assault cases while on active duty. (Continues)