Recently I wrote a few articles about how reforms to how the military would prosecute sexual assault would likely not make any difference, and how the military abuses the non-judicial punishment system, especially on young enlisted servicemembers, while not doing much to hold members of higher ranks accountable. Those are great articles and you should go back and read them, as this article is going to build off of that information.
My email was inundated recently with articles about Air Force General William Cooley, who was recently found guilty of
sexual assault abusive sexual contact (editor note: he was found not guilty of sexual assault, which is the Article 120 reference in the linked article. My apologies for that mistake, and thank you to the commenter that caught it!). This is a big deal because its the first time in the entire history of the Air Force that a general (someone that is wearing a stars on their shoulders and was specifically approved for promotion by Congress) was taken to court martial and found guilty. Now, this isn’t the first time a general was punished. That normally happens under the radar through administrative means, and can happen even as the person is retiring.
As an intelligent reader of this blog, you might ask yourself “How did the Air Force make it 75 years without taking a single general to court martial? Are they just that good at picking people?” When you consider the size of the Air Force and the large number of generals that have served over its 75 year history, and if you know anything about statistics, you realize that this is nonsense. People committ crimes. It happens. You can’t judge an organization by the fact a member committed a crime.
You CAN judge that organization by how it responds to the crimes, and in the case of the military services, that judgement should be pretty harsh. General Cooley was given a fine of $10,910 a month for five months (total of $54,550) and a reprimand. Now, $54K is a lot of money for little people. But at the low end, a major general makes $191K a year in just base pay, so you can be excused for thinking he got off pretty easy.
sexual assault abusive sexual contact carries jail time and having to register as a sex offender, which General Cooley apparently won’t have to do. Is this a double standard? The easiest way to confirm is look at the results of other court martials of lower ranking people. Scanning the Air Force’s trial results show an awful lot of jail time for Article 120 (sexual assault) convictions, as well as abusive sexual contact.
Probably more infuriating for the average airman is that Air Force leadership told everyone that sexual assault and sexual crimes in general would not be tolerated and would be punished, despite the fact that sexual crimes in general are notoriously hard to prosecute due to lack of evidence. Inevitably this attitude lead to more than a few innocent people getting NJP, which doesn’t give members a fair trial, and seems to disproportionately affect young enlisted members, and particularly minority members. But when the Air Force has the chance to prosecute a senior member and show it can hold its own accountable…it doesn’t. A fair jury finds General Cooley guilty, and yet the judge goes soft on him.
To which I have to ask, why? Why denigrate yourself this way? How can you sleep at night knowing that you botched the chance to prove you really do care about your core values and the service members that serve your organization? The Army lost a lot of credibility in how it handled the Jeffrey Sinclair case. This directly mirrors it, and somehow the Air Force learned nothing from it.
I can’t imagine how this makes parents of kids wanting to join the military feel. The fact that General Cooley did something criminal says nothing about the Air Force, but the fact that he faces no jail time says volumes about the Air Force. It’s just one more reason the military is losing credibility and will have a long road to win it back.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. Those agencies would have you believe everything is great and that nothing is wrong with the current way things work. If you liked this article, drop a donation in DaTipJar, share this story and consider purchasing one of the author’s books on Amazon.