Not Promoting Convicted Officer
- 1:14 PM
The incident has infuriated Senators and military-survivor advocates, who say that Wilkerson’s case underscores just how clueless the Air Force remains to the persistent epidemic of uniformed sexual assault.
Wilkerson’s conviction at his court martial last year led to a sentence of a year in jail, the forfeiture of his pay and a dismissal from service. But last month, the commander of the Third Air Force, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, who presided over Wilkerson’s case, overturned the verdict, wiped away Wilkerson’s conviction from his record, and returned him to active duty. All this occurred in the wake of the Air Force’s pledge to crack down on servicemember sexual assault following the Lackland Air Force Base scandal, in which trainers repeatedly abused, molested and raped female cadets.
Now the embarrassed Air Force is looking for a face saving way out of its institutional mess. Its answer thus far, reports Stars & Stripes, is to remove Wilkerson’s name from its promotions list. There’s an opportunity for Wilkerson to appeal the decision.
In the military’s “up-or-out” officer system, stopping Wilkerson from getting promoted is a bureaucratic, passive-aggressive way of encouraging him to retire. Thanks to Franklin, Wilkerson would be able to leave the military without a stain on his record, without the Air Force doing a thing to address the proven abuses committed by an officer termed an “Air Force superstar” by his last performance review.
“The Air Force could do an administrative separation action and try for a lower discharge characterization, but given the notoriety the case has attracted that’s unlikely,” says retired Col. Morris Davis, a former Air Force lawyer. “It would require in essence another mini-trial unless he did a waiver in lieu of a discharge board. He could also face a grade determination at retirement that would retire him in a lower grade.” But that’s about it for additional discipline.
All this has advocates wondering if abused servicemembers can find justice inside the military, however loudly the Pentagon insists it’s taking the issue seriously.
“This case sends a horrible message to victims of sexual assault in our military that are thinking about coming forward,” Nancy Parrish, president of the Protect Our Defenders support network, tells Danger Room. “Why bother to put the investigators, prosecutors, judge, jury and survivors through this if one person can set justice aside with the swipe of a pen?”
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) is calling on the Air Force to fire Wilkerson and removing Franklin from his leadership position. “This stunning decision demonstrates a total disregard for the survivors of sexual assault and for the findings of the military justice system,” she wrote to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley this week.(.pdf)
Parrish supports McCaskill. “The authority to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate must be taken outside the chain of command,” she says. “And Commanders should not have the authority to set aside a conviction or sentence by a judge or jury.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee plans a big hearing on Wednesday into military sexual assault. Expect to hear much more about Lt. Col. Wilkerson then.