WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Please Note: Retired Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett is a partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Venable LLP, who, along with Venable partner Becky Pearson, a former U.S. Air Force judge advocate, accepted U.S. Army “Captain Smith” on a pro bono basis to advise her of her rights and responsibilities throughout the sexual assault trial. Because she is a victim of sexual assault, she will be referred to as Captain Smith.
Today’s sentencing is beyond disappointing, it is a travesty and a serious misstep for the Army. A general who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, criminal cruelty and maltreatment towards subordinates, improper relationships with three women under his command and the possession of pornography gets off with a fine and letter of reprimand in his service record. The slap on the wrist and “pat on the back” for being a so-called “good solider” points to the importance of Congressional action.
Make no mistake: This has been an ordeal for all the women General Sinclair abused and a very trying ordeal for the captain. She is the victim of severe mental and sexual abuse by a superior officer and has sworn under oath that she was sexually assaulted by General Sinclair. The general further abused her in a futile effort to hide his heinous acts from his superiors and his wife.
As the captain expressed to me, a sentence doesn’t take away any of the pain and anguish that she has endured. Justice for her was being able to face the man who abused her and other women in the military. She had her day in court to speak the truth about the horrible things he did, and based on Judge Pohl’s sentence, that will have to be enough. But it shouldn’t be.
It’s no secret that the treatment of service members who have been sexually abused and assaulted has been a very serious problem in the military, and challenges remain as we saw today. Clearly, the Army judge does not understand the nature of cruelty, maltreatment of subordinates and sexual abuse by a superior in command. This sentence can only be interpreted as the Army viewing what General Sinclair did as just not that bad.
The Army does deserve some credit here. Captain Smith was transferred and placed under an outstanding command at Fort Huachuca. Her current superiors and mentors encouraged and supported her throughout the many difficult challenges of the past two years. The Army has established a Special Victims’ Counsel program and appointed a Special Victims Counsel who did an outstanding job.
But that is far short of substantial justice, and it means that there should be structural, legal and programmatic changes throughout the military.
Today’s sentencing shows us that sexual abuse continues to be a significant issue for the military. Some in the military still seem to view this as having been a consensual affair. No sexual advances by a superior officer towards a junior officer or soldier under his or her command can be viewed as consensual. It is sexual abuse from the beginning. Captain Smith had to stand alone for nearly two years, sometimes without an attorney, while a well-financed media campaign and nearly constant statements by General Sinclair’s defense counsel tried to destroy her credibility and continued to victimize her. Her courage and devotion seeking to ensure that this trauma does not happen to others is truly magnificent.
It is particularly important to note to those women in the military who are victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault that the captain has had her day in court. But the sentencing of General Sinclair for his reprehensible conduct should send you a loud and clear message. We still need to fight to protect victims of sexual abuse in the military, and fight hard.
As a former military officer, I have witnessed a brave captain take a difficult and painful step. I recoiled at the mean, misguided and disgraceful efforts to publicly intimidate her. At times it looked like a throwback to a bygone era in the treatment of victims of sexual assault, when humiliation and public degradation were the means of trying to silence victims and force them to run away from speaking the truth. But this captain did not back down. Instead, a true soldier, she stayed the course and had her day in court to ensure that this does not happen to other service women. By failing to render justice today, the Army and our Armed Forces have to face the reality that this could happen again, and next time, there will be less of a reason for the victims to come forward.