Senators furious over general's dismissal of sexual assault verdict

An Air Force lieutenant general’s decision to dismiss a guilty verdict in a sexual assault case is drawing the ire of several senators.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) sent a letter to the Air Force secretary and chief of staff asking them to consider removing Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin from power and review his decision to dismiss the charges against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, after a jury found Wilkerson guilty.

“Lt. Gen. Franklin’s actions send the unacceptable message that the United States Air Force specifically, and the U.S. Armed Forces as a whole, do not take seriously holding accountable perpetrators of sexual assault.”

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) also sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel over the matter, calling on him to review the “travesty of justice.”

Wilkerson was convicted of aggravated sexual assault last year and sentenced to a year in prison and dismissal from the Air Force.

Franklin reviewed the case and dismissed the verdict, clearing Wilkerson and reinstating him in the Air Force. That review was part of the process under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

The latest case comes after Air Force has faced criticism in the past year for a major sexual assault scandal at the Lackland Air Force base in Texas, where more than 30 basic training instructors have been investigated for inappropriate conduct with recruits. One instructor was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to 20 years in prison, and several others are facing court martial.

The senators say the latest case raises new concerns about how serious the military is about tackling sexual assault, as several lawmakers want to remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command.

“Isn’t it time … that we look at the UCMJ and decide that we need to have something other than the arbitrary decision of one general, without any other supervising authority, any other procedure that is necessary, to actually overturn the very difficult decision that the jury came to?” McCaskill asked U.S. Central Command chief Gen. James Mattis at a congressional hearing Tuesday.

Mattis defended the UCMJ. “I can assure you that justice is overwhelmingly served by the currently-constituted UCMJ,” he told McCaskill.