Washington, D.C. – Rep. Kristi Noem announced today that she joined a bipartisan group of members on the House Armed Services Committee in sending a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel seeking answers to specific questions about the application of military law in sexual assault cases.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that our military men and women are fully protected from sexual assault and sexual misconduct,” said Rep. Noem. “I am concerned about the recent decision to overturn a guilty verdict and I look forward to hearing more from Secretary Hagel in regard to this matter.”
The letter states: “Recently, a convening authority overturned the guilty verdict in an Air Force court-martial involving sexual assault charges. That decision has raised significant concerns among Members of Congress regarding not only the appropriateness of the decision, but also the rationale for the underlying statutory authority upon which the decision was based. We share those concerns.”
This letter was written in response to a recent decision which overturned a guilty verdict involving sexual assault charges in a court martial. Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to one year in prison, total pay forfeiture and dismissal. This decision was overturned and Wilkerson was reinstated at full rank.
Rep. Noem previously questioned U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark A. Welsh III and U.S. Air Force Commander General Edward A. Rice, Jr. about sexual misconduct by basic training instructors at Lackland Air Force Base during a House Armed Services Committee hearing.
Rep. Noem is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, as well as the Agriculture Committee.
Full text of the letter is below:
Dear Mr. Secretary:
Recently, a convening authority overturned the guilty verdict in an Air Force court-martial involving sexual assault charges. That decision has raised significant concerns among Members of Congress regarding not only the appropriateness of the decision, but also the rationale for the underlying statutory authority upon which the decision was based. We share those concerns.
- Given the intense Member interest in this issue, we expect that it will be a matter addressed in the committee’s deliberations on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014. In order to assist our deliberations, we would ask your expeditious responses to the following questions:
- How is a convening authority’s ability to overturn the adjudged sexual assault conviction and sentence of a General Court-Martial, as in the case of Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson, United States Air Force, appropriate and consistent with justice, good order and discipline, and the Department’s policy of zero tolerance for sexual assault?
- What changes, if any, should be made to Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice?
To further assist our deliberations in this matter, we request that you provide the Committee with the following, as soon as possible:
• An analysis of the underlying rationale for the convening authority’s role and responsibilities in the UCMJ? How has it developed over time?
• A summary, by service, going back to 2008, of the cases and times when a convening authority in a general or special court-martial, exercised the authority under Article 60, UCMJ, to dismiss or disapprove either in full or in part the findings or sentence adjudged by the court-martial, or to change a finding of guilty in one charge to a finding of guilty to a lesser included offense, or to ordered a proceeding in revision or a rehearing on either the adjudged findings or sentence.
• An analysis of how other military justice systems address the role of the convening authority in courts-martial.
We look forward to your responses and with working with you as the Committee deliberates this issue as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal year 2014.
Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon
Rep. Adam Smith
Rep. Joe Wilson
Rep. Susan A. Davis
Rep. Michael Turner
Rep. Niki Tsongas
Rep. Walter B. Jones
Rep. Madeleine Z. Bordallo
Rep. David Loebsack
Rep. Mike Rogers
Rep. Robert Brady
Rep. Joseph Heck
Rep. Austin Scott
Rep. Brad Wenstrup
Rep. Jackie Walorski
Rep. Christopher Gibson
Rep. Kristi Noem
Rep. Joaquin Castro