An Air Force fighter pilot is found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman in his home and sentenced to one year in military prison. He is dismissed from the service without benefits. Then, his commanding officer throws out the verdict and reinstates the pilot’s active-duty status.
That “inexplicable decision,” as the New York Times called it in an op-ed Tuesday, may sound like the plot of a military novel or movie. But it’s what reportedly happened in a case that is now under review at the highest levels of the Pentagon. The case could prompt changes to how the military justice system handles sexual assault cases, which is the subject of a Senate subcommittee hearing being held Wednesday and legislation introduced in the House on Tuesday.
Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, senior commanders decide whether criminal charges are brought against military personnel and have the power to veto court-martial findings. As a result, service members who are victims of sexual assault effectively don’t have the same rights as civilians, argues the Service Women’s Action Network. As the Times puts it: “For women who have been sexually assaulted, it means that their bosses decide whether charges are brought against their assailants, and that information about their assaults is shared in their workplaces.” It also means the assailant’s boss can decide whether or not the assailant in his or her charge is guilty.