Sunday, May 19, 2013

Soldier at Fort Hood investigated for sexual assault, Hagel seeks changes to military legal process

Hot on the heels of a similar charge against Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, a solider assigned as a Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program coordinator has been suspended while allegations of "pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates" are investigated. See second story below.

Many are wondering what's the point in having investigations if commanders can throw out verdicts.

After sex assault case, Hagel seeks changes to military legal process
By Jim Kavanagh
April 9, 2013

In response to an Air Force colonel's overturned sexual assault conviction, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is asking Congress to limit military commanders' authority to toss out court-martial verdicts.

"These changes would increase the confidence of service members and the public that the military justice system will do justice in every case," Hagel said in a statement Monday announcing the initiative.

Hagel also wants to require commanders who change court-martial sentences to explain their decisions in writing.

The effort comes in response to the case of Air Force Col. James Wilkerson. The F-16 pilot was freed last year from a Navy brig four months after a court-martial convicted him of sexually assaulting a woman at his home outside Aviano Air Base in Italy.

Acting under the military justice system's Article 60, the Air Force's top commanding officer in Europe, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, exercised his power as "convening authority" of the court-martial to overturn the conviction.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was among those expressing outrage over the decision.

"As we are trying to send a signal to women ... I question now whether that unit that that man returns to, whether there's any chance a woman who is sexually assaulted in that unit would ever say a word," McCaskill said during a hearing in March.

Lisa Windsor, a former Army Judge Advocate General officer, said any base commander has authority to do what Franklin did, but "I've actually never seen that happen before, that a convening authority would completely overturn the case."

Hagel ordered a review of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and Monday's announcement is the result. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretaries of the various services support the changes, he said.

"Despite the attention and efforts of senior leaders throughout the Department of Defense, it is clear the department still has much more work to do to fully address the problem of sexual assault in the ranks," Hagel said. "This crime is damaging this institution. There are thousands of victims in the department, male and female, whose lives and careers have been upended, and that is unacceptable."

About 19,000 men and women suffer sexual assault each year in the military, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last year in announcing a Pentagon effort to stop the crime. Panetta noted that only about 3,200 of those assaults were reported. About 10,700 cases -- 56% -- involved male victims in 2010, based on anonymous reporting collected by the military.

CNN's Brian Todd, Josh Levs and Ashley Fantz contributed to this report.

Army investigates sergeant for alleged sexual assault
By Dana Ford
May 15, 2013

(CNN) -- The Army announced Tuesday that a sergeant first class assigned to an assault prevention program at Fort Hood, Texas, is under investigation for sexual assault.

The soldier, who was not named in an Army statement, has been suspended from all duties.

Specifically, the soldier is under investigation for "pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates," the statement said. Special agents from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command are conducting the probe.

No charges have been filed.

"This is so contrary to everything upon which the Army was built," Secretary of the Army John McHugh said during testimony before the House Appropriations Committee Defense subcommittee, according to the statement. "To see this kind of activity happening in our ranks is really heart-wrenching and sickening."

McHugh spoke generally about sex abuse crimes in the military...

The solider was assigned as a Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program coordinator when the allegations surfaced. "There is a distinct possibility," that some sort of prostitution-related activity was involved, an administration official told CNN. But investigators have not yet determined the scope of that possibility or the potential criminal misconduct... According to a Pentagon report released last week, the number of service members anonymously reporting a sexual assault grew by more than 30% in the past two years.

The Defense Department estimated that more than 26,000 troops experienced an episode of "unwanted sexual contact," a huge jump from 19,300 in the 2010 report.

The actual number of sexual crimes reported in fiscal year 2012 was 3,374, a 6% increase over the previous year, the report said.

Military officials worry that many victims don't come forward because they fear retaliation. But the numbers might indicate that more victims are willing to report crimes than in the past.

"I am outraged and disgusted by the reports out of Fort Hood today," said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, calling them the "latest chapter in a long, sordid history of sexual abuse" in the military. The California Republican has a granddaughter in the Army. "I see no meaningful distinction between complacency or complicity in the military's latest failure to uphold their own standards of conduct. Nor do I see a distinction between the service member who orchestrated this offense and the chain of command that was either oblivious to or tolerant of criminal behavior," he said... "To say this report is disturbing would be a gross understatement. For the second time in a week, we are seeing someone who is supposed to be preventing sexual assault being investigated for committing that very act," said U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York. She plans to unveil legislation this week that would remove chain of command influence from the prosecution of such offenses.

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