04 March 2014

Congress is watching: Will the Army go "soft" on a senior leader on trial? | RallyPoint.com

Image copyright DoD File Photo

By Paul Woolverton
Copyright 2014 The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.

Two issues go on trial Tuesday at the same time, in the same courtroom, at Fort Bragg.

One is the court-martial of Brig. Gen. Jeff Sinclair, a battle-seasoned, once rising star in the Army. He is accused of sexually assaulting an officer under his command near the end of a long-running adulterous affair.

The second puts the military's criminal justice system to the test. Critics have accused the military of being soft on sexual misconduct and sexual predators in the ranks. Now, as powerful politicians, including President Obama, are exerting pressure for the military to take strong action in sexual assault cases, Sinclair's defense lawyers say the tide may be turning too far the other way.

Sinclair's court-martial — targeting, as it does, one of the Army's senior leaders — is certain to be closely watched. The trial begins this week as Congress prepares to act on a bill that would largely remove commanders from decision-making in military trials to avoid potential bias.

Sinclair's case is unusual in that he is accused of sexually assaulting a woman with whom he had an ongoing consensual relationship. The defense will use that relationship to try to undermine the woman's credibility.

Sinclair, 51, and his accuser, now a 34-year-old Army captain, met in Germany in 2008 and began their sexual relationship in summer 2009 during a deployment to Iraq, according to her testimony at an investigative hearing in fall 2012. The Observer is not naming the woman because it does not identify people alleged to be victims of sexual assault.

In 2009, Sinclair was a colonel in his late 40s, married with two young sons. The captain was a second lieutenant with prior enlisted service.

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