Hagel Intervenes in Aviano Sex-Abuse Case

Amid lawmakers’ outcry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has directed Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Defense Department Acting General Counsel Robert Taylor to look into the decision by 3rd Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin that overturned the sexual-misconduct conviction of a former officer at Aviano AB, Italy. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) announced Hagel’s action on Monday, releasing the March 7 letter that he sent her. Hagel wrote Boxer that he wanted Donley and Taylor “to determine how the factual basis” for Franklin’s decision “can be made more transparent” and to review the case “to assess whether all aspects of the [Uniform Code of Military Justice] were followed.” He wants them to report to him—after they consult with the Army and Navy Secretaries—whether DOD should consider UCMJ changes. Hagel also told Boxer he’s prepared to work with lawmakers to “help ensure the effectiveness” of DOD’s responses “to the crime of sexual assault.” Franklin was the convening authority for the court-martial of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, former 31st Fighter Wing inspector general found guilty last November of improper sexual conduct with a female civilian base employee. Upon reviewing the case, Franklin overturned the conviction, citing lack of sufficient evidence. Under the UCMJ, the convening authority’s decision is final; no one, including the Defense Secretary can change it, according to Hagel’s missive. Hagel said the case “does raise a significant question” about the convening authority’s role.