One court decision. Two polar-opposite conclusions.
That’s the story on Capitol Hill on Monday after sexual-assault charges in a high-profile case against an Army general were thrown out in military court under a plea deal for lesser violations.
The case further fueled Democrats’ intra-party fight over how to handle military sexual assault, a struggle that pits New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand against Missouri’s Claire McCaskill. Following the plea deal, both senators remained as dug in as ever.
Congressional reaction Monday to the dismissal of the charges was swift and divisive. It reinforced familiar battle lines over an ongoing political fight over the proper role for commanders in such cases.
McCaskill contends that the charges that Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair twice forced his former mistress, a captain, into sex acts and threatened to kill her and her family would never have come forward if not for the commander.
“As a former sex-crimes prosecutor, Claire knows how difficult these cases can be, and this case is obviously a complicated one,” said McCaskill spokeswoman Sarah Feldman. “But one of its lessons highlights what we already know–that commanders are often more aggressive than prosecutors in pursuing prosecutions.”
In the search for justice, one of the nice things about vesting authority in a commanding officer is accountability. There’s a person you can point a finger at, and say “This person is in charge, is responsible for charges being pursued or not.”
Sen. Gillibrand wishes military justice to more closely match that of the civilian system. But that ignores the fact that in the civilian system, there are any number of cases, a large percentage of allegations, that are simply never pursued at all, with little or no recourse for the purported victim.