Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is urging military juries to judge strictly on the facts after statements on sexual assault in the military by President Barack Obama and other senior officials backfired, Stars and Stripes reports.
In an Aug. 6 memo set for wide distribution, Hagel wrote military judgment “must be based purely on the facts of each individual case, not … an effort to produce what is thought to be the outcome desired by senior officials, military or civilian.”
As part of his push to get tough on sexual assault in the military, Obama said on May 7 that guilty service members must be “prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.”
Kevin Cieply, an Army veteran and associate law professor at John Marshall Law School, told The Daily Caller Obama’s statement “wasn’t good judgment on his part” due to his position as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
“He should not be making statements that have a lot of specificity concerning any type criminal charges,” Cieply said.
Indeed, Obama and other senior officials’ remarks calling for discharges had the unintended consequence of harming sexual assault victims’ cases – The New York Times reports defense attorneys are now using them as an example of “unlawful command influence” in order to get their clients off the hook.
“Every military defense counsel will make a motion about this,” Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Romig, the former judge advocate general of the Army, told the Times.
In one of at least a dozen cases which have used this particular defense, Navy military judge Cmdr. Marcus Fulton ruled that two defendants charged with sexual assault could not receive discharges even if convicted.
But despite Hagel’s announcement, it’s not certain the statements will completely cease having influence, Victor M. Hansen, a former military prosecutor, told TheDC.
“Even if military juries disregard the statements, there is no doubt that commanders would be feeling pressure from above to bring cases to trial,” Hansen said.