From the time she started it last year, we’ve supported Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s crusade to take military sexual assault cases out of the chain of command and let independent military prosecutors decide whether to bring charges. The case of Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, whose prosecution was dropped last week for a plea bargain that brought him the lightest of punishments, is a good example of why that needs to be done.
This wasn’t the classic case of a commander not believing a victim, usually a woman, or protecting a perpetrator, usually a man and often of higher rank to the victim. The commander continued to push for prosecution even when the story of the alleged victim, a captain and Sinclair’s former mistress, started to unravel and she was apparently caught in a lie. Even when two successive prosecutors and two successive staff judge advocates agreed the case should be dropped.
Looking at all this, and emails suggesting Defense Department interference, the presiding judge concluded that this prosecution was driven by political considerations — that is, the military’s determination to look tough on sexual assault in the face of public outrage and congressional pressure — and ordered a possible plea deal. That’s not an argument against Gillibrand’s quest to let impartial prosecutors make these decisions, but another argument for it.