Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., again called on the Air Force to kick out a lieutenant colonel whose sex assault conviction overturned by a three-star general, this time on the House floor.
The congresswoman authored a June 21 letter signed by more that two dozen colleagues demanding Lt. Col. James Wilkerson’s ouster.
Here’s what Speier had to say on the floor of the House yesterday:
“I’d like to highlight two very important topics: real justice and military justice. As a recent case of sexual abuse illustrates, they are far from one in the same.
“Last fall, Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson was convicted of sexual assault by a military jury. The assault took place in Wilkerson’s own home, as his wife and child slept upstairs. The all-male jury–four colonels and one lieutenant colonel–was unanimous in their ruling: guilty. Wilkerson was sentenced to 1 year in prison, a less than honorable discharge, and a loss of benefits. Three months later, General Craig Franklin, a three-star general who had originally called for the court-martial, overturned the punishment. General Franklin has no legal training. Wilkerson was free and clear and reinstated on Active Duty.
“Now, that’s quite a reversal, you’d say. There must have been some ironclad, watertight, slam-dunk evidence for a general to negate a jury of five officers, right? Some silver-bullet testimony? Sorry, no. In this case, the reasoning for the general’s stunning intervention was “character.” The general simply felt that Wilkerson was a “doting father and husband.” You know, a family man.
“Okay, you say. Maybe the general considered solid evidence that calls the entire night into question. Sorry, no. It turns out General Franklin relied on evidence that was ruled inadmissible in court. Evidence like letters of support from Wilkerson’s wingmen, who had his back. On the other hand, he ignored the results of a polygraph test that Wilkerson had failed.
“Wait a minute, you say. Maybe this one terrible act was an isolated incident, horrible as it was. Sorry, no. Earlier this month, the Air Force acknowledged that Wilkerson had previously fathered a child through an extramarital affair. Adultery is a crime in the military, but only inside a 5-year statute of limitation. This crime from 8 years ago is no longer punishable. And it was kept quiet by the Air Force. Why? Because they say the Privacy Act prevented the disclosure of those actions without Wilkerson’s permission. Can you believe that?
“Those are the facts of the case. Currently, Wilkerson is slated to receive full military benefits, including a pension and health care, for life. And this is what military justice currently looks like. If the Uniform Code of Military Justice allows for such negligence and obstruction, then the Code is more than just outdated and ineffective; it’s broken. It’s damaging the military itself.
“It’s also obvious to any legal expert that General Franklin was out of his depth and overmatched in this situation. Is he a lawyer? No, he’s not a lawyer. But you keep these proceedings in the chain of command and you get bias. You get a travesty. You get no justice at all.
“Today, I’m demanding real justice. The Air Force needs to redeem itself. I call on the Air Force to convene an involuntary discharge board. For Wilkerson’s gross misconduct, the Secretary of the Air Force should also do a grade determination and assess whether Wilkerson should be demoted to his rank at the time of his first offense. I’ve sent a letter to the Secretary demanding these actions. Twenty-five of my colleagues in the House have joined me and signed the letter.
“We’ve heard repeatedly how bad this problem is. There are 26,000 cases of sexual assault a year. A tiny fraction of those are reported. It’s rare that a case like the Wilkerson one ever gets to this stage. And when it does, look what happens. Zero tolerance evaporates and becomes zero accountability. Victims suffer all over again. The military continues to look inept, incompetent, arrogant, and unjust to everyone but to themselves.
“In the meantime, we are left to describe this ongoing problem in any number of ways: a plague, a cancer, or simply a national embarrassment. Should we even consider this type of justice–this sham of military justice–worthy of our country and our values? I say ‘no.’ I believe the American people would say a resounding ‘no’ as well.”