The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

January 13, 2014

General's sexual misconduct trial has a charged backdrop

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — He called her “my panda” and “my baby.” She called him “papa panda sexy pants.”

They had a three-year affair in Afghanistan, Iraq, Germany and the United States, but they were hardly equals. She was a junior officer assigned to his staff. He was a one-star general.

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair now stands accused of sexually assaulting the woman, a captain, who says he forced her to engage in oral sex after she tried to break off their affair.

The general is also charged with threatening to kill the captain and her family, sexually harassing other female officers, abusing his government credit card, and possessing alcohol and pornography in a war zone.

The lurid details have spilled out in court hearings at a time when the military is under intense pressure to curb rampant sexual abuse in the ranks. Last month Congress passed, and the president signed, legislation to bolster prosecution of sexual assault in the military.

The Sinclair case has focused attention on the military’s attempts to punish sexual misconduct. It is also a test of claims by many military defense lawyers that high-ranking commanders get a pass for offenses that result in serious charges against lower-ranking service members.

Sinclair’s attorneys say pledges by President Barack Obama and senior Pentagon officials to crack down on sexual misconduct have made it impossible for the 27-year Army veteran to get a fair trial. One defense brief cites a comment from the president:

“If we find out somebody is engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable — prosecuted, stripped of their position, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.”

Such statements compelled the military to charge Sinclair and could prejudice prospective military jurors, the defense has alleged.

Women’s groups have demanded an overhaul of the current military justice system in which top commanders, invariably male, wield considerable influence over whether and how to bring charges.

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