A Slap on the Wrist for a Handsy General

Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair, believed to be the highest-ranking official ever to be brought up on charges of sexual assault, was sentenced today. He had pleaded guilty to lesser charges of mistreating his mistress when the prosecution's case...

Mar 20 2014, 4:31pm

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair. Photo by Flickr user Arctic Wolves

Yesterday, I wrote about the high-profile court martial of Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair, who was accused of sexually assaulting a subordinate officer over the course of their three-year, extra-marital affair. The case against him fell apart when certain inconsistencies in the accuser’s testimony cast doubt on her credibility, and Sinclair pleaded guilty to lesser charges including mistreating his former mistress and misusing an Army-issued credit card.

According to the accuser, who was Sinclair’s Arabic-speaking adviser and a captain in the Army, the general was a handsy dude and allegedly groped her on an airplane in plain view of other soldiers and made her perform oral sex on him in her office even as she vocally protested. It’s all extraordinarily sordid and was perhaps the most attention-getting case of sexual assault in the military in years. Some of the stats about rape in the military are staggering. If you’re a woman in the US and you would like to DOUBLE your chances of getting sexually assaulted in your lifetime, join the military.

Anyhow, the general’s sentence was announced today, and to pretty much everyone’s chagrin, he’s getting off rather lightly. Although he could have faced jail time, he’ll instead be fined $24,100 and will not be demoted or even discharged from the army. He’ll be offered early retirement and will keep a general’s pension (which is probably over six figures).

From all accounts, Sinclair was an excellent war man. He helped lead the Army’s efforts in southern Afghanistan in some of the worst fighting of that war, and we can speculate that his laudable service could have influenced the sentencing judge to keep him out of the brig. I’ve never picked up arms for my country or stood strong in the face of a battery of mortar fire, so, for all I know, that’s how things should be.

But what I do know is that soldiers who do horrible things like treat themselves for PTSD with marijuana—and get caught—usually receive dishonorable discharges that disqualify them from health care and other veteran’s benefits, and any kind of pension.

Of course the difference is that it’s a lot easier to prove marijuana use than rape, especially in a system of military courts that keeps the prosecution of rape within the chain of command.

To echo the arguments of military commanders who were against things like racially integrating the military and letting gays serve openly, the armed forces should not be a laboratory for social experimentation. So why should it have its own rules that insulate its leaders from the real-world consequences of horrible conduct?

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