The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

January 13, 2014

Our View: Tenacious McCaskill

Kudos to U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., for her unwavering criticism of a three-star general’s callous handling of two sexual assault cases.

Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, the commander of the Third Air Force in Europe, retired Wednesday after weeks of condemnation by McCaskill and advocacy groups for his insensitivity to rape allegations.

McCaskill is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The latest case involves an Air Force staff sergeant who reported that a subordinate raped her after an evening spent drinking and dancing at a club. The accused airman claimed the sergeant consented. The case hearing officer recommended against proceeding to court-martial in the case, and Franklin agreed.

In a second high-profile case, Franklin overturned last spring the jury conviction and sentence of a fighter pilot charged with rape. Franklin’s decision prompted an outcry from McCaskill, who said he was protecting one of his men.

McCaskill grilled military leaders last year in several Senate hearings and introduced legislation that has since been passed into law that curtails the authority of military commanders to dismiss jury convictions against sex offenders.

Franklin acknowledged that he had become a “distraction” for the Air Force for his controversial decisions not to court-martial the accused rapists. In a prepared statement, Franklin said he was ending his 37-year military career because his judgment had been “questioned publicly regarding my decisions as a general court-martial convening authority.”

“Lt. Gen. Franklin’s decision to resign is the right one,” McCaskill said. “His handling of sexual assault cases is the best possible illustration of why civilian review, elimination of commanders’ ability to overturn convictions and so many other protections are included in our recent defense bill.”

There is an ongoing problem with sexual assault in the U.S. military. According to a 2011 Newsweek report, women are more likely to be assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed in combat. The Department of Defense estimates there are about 19,000 sexual assaults in the military each year, but according to the latest Pentagon statistics (2013), only 1,108 troops filed for an investigation. And during that period, only 575 cases were processed.  

When the Franklin case first came to light, McCaskill said, “It is clear that Lt. Gen. Franklin should not be allowed to fulfill the responsibilities of military command because he has repeatedly shown he lacks sound judgment and respect for the responsibilities held by military commanders to protect those under their authority.”

Hats off to Sen. McCaskill for her dogged determination. We can only hope that the military will do the right thing in future sexual assault cases.

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