Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Hagel to review Air Force sexual assault case

Newly confirmed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday he will review the case of an Air Force lieutenant colonel, convicted of sexual assault, whose conviction was thrown out by the Air Force general overseeing the court martial.

By Richard Lardner,?Associated Press / March 11, 2013

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, seen here at a March 1 press conference, announced Monday he will review a case involving an Air Force general who dismissed charges against a lieutenant colonel convicted of sexual assault.

Carolyn Kaster/AP/File


A case involving an Air Force general who dismissed charges against a lieutenant colonel convicted of sexual assault will be reviewed at the top levels of the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a letter released Monday. But it's seemed unlikely that the ruling would be changed.

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Hagel said that under military law, neither he nor the Air Force secretary has the authority to reverse Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin's decision to overturn the conviction against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, a former inspector general at Aviano Air Base in Italy.

Hagel's letter is dated March 7 and was sent to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who released it publicly. The Senate Armed Services Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday on sexual assaults in the military and the Wilkerson case is expected to be a major topic of discussion.

Boxer and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., wrote to Hagel last week asking him to look into the case. They called Franklin's decision to overturn the jury verdict "a travesty of justice." Franklin is commander of the 3rd Air Force at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, in a March 5 letter that Franklin's decision "shows ignorance, at best, and malfeasance, at worst." Franklin's decision undermines efforts by the Air Force and the other military branches "to erase a culture that has often turned a blind eye on sexual assault," McCaskill added.

Shaheen and McCaskill are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Air Force has been grappling for months with the fallout over a sex scandal at its training headquarters in Texas. Dozens of young female recruits and airmen at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio were victimized by their instructors who sexually harassed, improperly touched, or raped them.

During January testimony before a House committee, Welsh likened sexual assault in the Air Force's ranks to a cancer and vowed to tackle the problem by screening personnel more carefully and putting an end to bad behaviors like binge drinking that can lead to misconduct.


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