A U.S. Navy sailor accused of sexual assault and facing a UCMJ trial has prevailed in a motion to throw out the possibility of a dishonorable discharge, because his court martial was tainted by undue command influence by the President of the United States. A PDF of the ruling obtained by Stars & Stripes is available here.
According to the presiding judge, Marcus Fulton, the president’s problematic remarks were as follows:
“The bottom line is: I have no tolerance for this. I expect consequences. So I don’t just want more speeches or awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way. If we find out somebody’s engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.”
Why were these words problematic? Because there is nothing in the UCMJ that requires that someone found guilty of sexual assault be fired or dishonorably discharged. Court martial convening authorities are, by law, supposed to operate free of command influence. Appeals courts have already repeatedly held that it is unlawful for a commander to “send word” of a desired case outcome to the members of a court martial. This would be a violation of Article 37 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This article reads, in part:
(a) No authority convening a general, special, or summary court-martial, nor any other commanding officer, may censure, reprimand, or admonish the court or any member, military judge, or counsel thereof, with respect to the findings or sentence adjudged by the court, or with respect to any other exercises of its or his functions in the conduct of the proceedings. No person subject to this chapter may attempt to coerce or, by any unauthorized means, influence the action of a court-martial or any other military tribunal or any member thereof, in reaching the findings or sentence in any case, or the action of any convening, approving, or reviewing authority with respect to his judicial acts. The foregoing provisions of the subsection shall not apply with respect to (1) general instructional or informational courses in military justice if such courses are designed solely for the purpose of instructing members of a command in the substantive and procedural aspects of courts-martial, or (2) to statements and instructions given in open court by the military judge, president of a special court-martial, or counsel.
While the president, as the civilian commander in chief of the Armed Forces, is not directly subject to the UCMJ, the judge in this case ruled that President Obama’s words constituted sufficient interference in the court martial proceedings that no sentence including a discharge could be trusted as free of undue influence.
The judge also referenced Congressional interference in the UCMJ process, pointing to an instance last month in which Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) blocked Air Force Lieutenant General Susan Helm’s promotion.
“As the senator works to change the military justice system to better protect survivors of sexual assault and hold perpetrators accountable, she wants to ensure that cases in which commanders overturned jury verdicts . . . are given the appropriate scrutiny,” said a spokesperson for Senator McCaskill to the Washington Post.
If this were done by members of the chain of command, this, too, would have been an unlawful violation of Article 37 of the UCMJ, which prohibits those covered by the UCMJ from using an officer’s conduct or decisions while a member of a UCMJ court martial against him or her in officer evaluations or promotion consideration. Again, this is to insulate UCMJ proceedings from political or unlawful command influence.
A similar case is winding its way through the military justice system. When the Air Force’s own head of sexual assault prevention programs, Lt. Colonel Jeffrey Kusinski was arrested for an alleged drunken sexual assault, the Secretary of Defense personally called the Secretary of the Air Force, Michael Donley, to express his outrage and either promise or extract a promise from Secretary Donly (the Washington Post’s reporting is not clear as to which) that the matter would be “dealt with quickly and decisively.”)
Kusinski’s defense counsel will no doubt raise the issue of unlawful command influence in the UCMJ proceedings. Given the precedences already in place, including this one, it is difficult to imagine a court finding that there was no undue command influence taking place. What is less clear is what the proposed remedy would be.
We first raised the alarm bells about undue and unlawful political and command influence in UCMJ proceedings here, where I wrote “Where any decision in favor of a defendant in a sexual harassment case is liable to come under fire straight from Secretary of Defense, and potentially become a career-ender for any officer, then we can trust no prosecution.” At least one military judge agrees, as far as the sentencing goes.
Meanwhile, if this sailor is indeed convicted, and if he is indeed guilty, the military may well be stuck with a sexual predator they can’t discharge. Who loses? Good sailors.
The House of Representatives handily passed a measure to impose a mandatory minimum sentence of two years confinement, plus dismissal or dishonorable discharge, for those convicted of rape or sexual assault under the UCMJ. If the measure is ultimately signed into law as part of a larger bill, it would increase the stakes for any servicemember accused. It would also make it more likely that the offender will never target anyone else while in uniform. This is important because last year nearly 25 percent of those convicted via the UCMJ remained in the service.
According to the Servicewomen’s Action Network, the military received 3,192 reports of sexual assaults against its members – overwhelmingly against women. The military considered 1,518 of them to be “actionable,” meaning the severity warranted criminal prosecution under the UCMJ, the event fell under UCMJ jurisdiction, and there was enough evidence, in the estimation of prosecutors, to potentially obtain a conviction. Out of the roughly 8 percent of the total number of sexual assault reported, there were 191 convictions. Of these, about 148 were discharged or dismissed. Another 15 or so resigned rather than face trials. That still leaves a significant number of troops who were allowed to remain in uniform despite a UCMJ conviction for sexual assault on their records.
The UCMJ includes a potential death sentence for rape under article 120. This article has already been reviewed and revised in 2007. Under the old law, prosecutors had to demonstrate that the accused had had sexual contact with the accuser without consent. Congress’s revision effectively put the burden of proof on the accused. Instead of merely needing to cast reasonable doubt on the prosecution’s claim, the revised statute required the accused to prove that the accuser actually consented to the sexual contact.
Some courts have found this burden shift to be constitutionally questionable, violating the right to due process under the 5th. The law also removed the question of consent as an element of the crime, in an attempt to place investigative focus on the accused rather than on the accuser. There were significant problems with this approach, since the 6th amendment still guarantees the accused the right to confront witnesses against him. Congress therefore revised Article 120 again in 2012. More details here.
There has only been one execution for rape under the UCMJ since WWII: Pvt. John Arthur Bennett was hanged in 1961 at Fort Leavenworth for raping and attempting to murder an 11-year old girl in Austria. Earnest L. Ransom was also executed at Fort Leavenworth in 1957, but he had also been convicted of premeditated murder along with raping a 14-year-old Korean girl.
There are probably few things worse than being stuck on a tarmac with a delayed flight. You have places to go, but you have no idea when the plane will finally get in the air. Flight connections will be missed. Family members scheduled to pick you up have to put their days on hold to be ready when you finally do make it to your final destination. It gets hot and stuffy. You might get hungry and cranky. And it gets boring. Really boring.
But sometimes passengers are able to make the most of their idle time and actually find ways to entertain themselves (or everyone around them).
This week, we have two videos of passengers trying to pass the time in creative ways. Which flight would you have preferred to be on? And what have you done to pass the time if you've been stuck — hopefully not on a tarmac but inside a terminal — waiting for your flight? Tell us in the comments. And have a Fun Friday!
College graduations were happening all around us last month. With a little hard work and preparation, all those hours of study will pay off with that most coveted reward: A job.
That’s right –the job market is now full of another fresh wave of newly-minted college graduates just like you. If you haven’t already begun networking, interning, crafting a resume, volunteering and applying for work, now’s the time to get cracking.
In today’s competitive job market, it’s hard to know where to look to find professional, entry-level, well-paying positions.
Below are five solid, professional, entry-level positions for career-minded people who have earned their degree. These jobs are excellent launching pads for careers, have realistic starting salaries and offer potential for long-term professional growth.
And as a bonus, if you are a military spouse or dependent, or if you are planning to leave the service in the next year or so, working towards a degree in these fields can still pay off down the road. They are all expected to remain as hot jobs for the next few years.
If You Are: A hybrid, as keen with the technical as you are the creative. You stay abreast of technological developments, are deadline-oriented and enjoy teamwork.
And You Have: A bachelor’s degree in information technology, computer science or related field.
Then You Can: Design Web sites and develop Web applications.
Salary and Growth Potential: Entry level Web designers generally earn a median salary of $50K. Those with more experience usually gain greater responsibility, including managing staff and more complex projects.
If You Are: An adept creator and problem solver.
And You Have: A bachelor’s degree in computer science.
Then You Can: Write and develop computer programs.
Salary and Growth Potential: Entry-level computer programmers typically earn a median salary of $54K. Those with a successful track record can grow into supervisory or managerial roles with additional responsibilities.
If You Are: Someone with superb attention to detail and a methodical approach to problem solving, with a knack for uncovering project requirements and underlying needs.
And You Have: A bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field.
Then You Can: Develop, coordinate and manage databases.
Salary and Growth Potential: Entry-level database analysts generally earn a median salary of $55K. Solid performance usually results in advancement to supervisory and managerial level.
If You Are: An inquisitive person with excellent research skills who loves both the environment and problem solving.
And You Have: A bachelor’s degree in engineering.
Then You Can: Engineer solutions that work to control environmental health hazards.
Salary and Growth Potential: Entry-level environmental engineers usually earn a median salary of $52K while working with more experienced engineers. Successful performance will yield additional responsibility.
If You Are: An observer and appreciator of behavioral trends with keen research and strategic skills.
And You Have: A bachelor’s degree in business, marketing or economics.
Then You Can: Assist with product or service demand forecasting, demographic analysis and campaign planning.
Salary and Growth Potential: Entry-level marketing coordinators earn a median salary of $49K. Strong performance and experience can result in advancement to manager, director or vice president.
Regardless of the job field, an investment in your education is an investment in your growth potential. If you haven’t selected your degree program yet, research areas that are a good fit with your personal strengths, interests and career development potential.
Military students can also prepare by discussing their transition into school or civilian workforce with a transition counselor.
Find a school that fits your education goals with our School Finder and start planning your new career now!
For all the problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, there is one bright, shining light: The VA home loan is still a godsend for veterans.
Easier Qualification Standards
It’s not so much the interest rate. People with excellent credit can qualify for marginally better interest rates with conventional mortgages than with VA loans. But consider this: According to mortgage software and data company Ellie Mae, it’s taking a credit score of well over 768 these days to qualify for the best rates in the conventional mortgage market. People with credit scores in the 600 range? Many of them aren’t qualifying for mortgage loans at all.
Over the last year, mortgage rates have fallen as low as 3.35 percent last December, and again in May, before rebounding to around 3.9 percent on June 1, 2013. Think about it from a lender’s perspective: That doesn’t leave much margin for defaults. With rates that low, lenders have become extremely picky about who they are willing to lend money to – even where these loans are secured by real estate.
A VA loan, however, is guaranteed by the U.S. government. That means that the taxpayer has stepped in and guaranteed the lender that they will not experience a loss on the loan. If a VA borrower defaults, the Department of Veterans Affairs makes up the difference to the lender.
This means that VA loans are a lot less risky to the lender than conventional loans. In turn, this means that lenders tend to be more willing to consider loans to those with less-than-stellar credit scores.
Furthermore, since a VA loan is guaranteed, the lender will not require private mortgage insurance, or PMI. Lenders typically require borrowers to buy this insurance if their loan-to-value ratio (LTV) is 80 percent or greater.
What does this mean? It means that if you owe more than 80 percent of the current value of the home, you have to keep paying PMI premiums. For most homeowners, this will add between $1,500 and $2,500 to your first-year home ownership costs.
The worst part is that the homeowner derives no benefit from this insurance. It protects the lender, not the borrower. But for VA borrowers, there’s no PMI requirement – even on deals that require nothing down. That’s enough of a difference to offset most or all of the lower monthly payments you might get with excellent credit if you made the same deal with a conventional loan.
(Hint: Home prices have gone up quite a bit over the last two years. If you have been paying PMI premiums, think about getting your home appraised, or requesting an appraisal from the lender. If a qualified appraisal pegs your home value at 80 percent or more of the outstanding mortgage balance, the lender has to drop PMI premiums. That’s money that goes back into your pocket.
Furthermore, VA loans do not have a pre-payment penalty. Lenders occasionally charge this to other borrowers to shield themselves from reinvestment risk – the possibility that borrowers will refinance their loans if interest rates fall, forcing the lender to reinvest the money at a lower interest rate.
But Congress realized that military families have to move a lot – and therefore have to pay off loans repeatedly with each PCS, through no fault of their own. They therefore wrote rules that prevent VA lenders from charging a pre-payment penalty. Typically, this is an amount equal to six months’ worth of interest if you try to refinance or pay off the loan within the first five years. With a VA loan, on the other hand, you can pay down the loan early and often. This makes the VA solution an ideal option if you plan to move in a relatively short period of time, and ideal for those facing PCS moves every three or four years. If you don’t go with a VA loan, then look carefully at the prepayment terms of your mortgage, because they will likely kick in when you refinance.
Many people look at the fact you can get into a VA loan with no down payment as the greatest benefit to a VA loan. But if you can’t swing a 10 to 20 percent down payment on a home, that’s a pretty good sign you can’t afford it! The underwriters figured that out long ago. Furthermore, VA borrowers aren’t immune to swings in house prices, and with zero down, even a slight downward tick in house prices leaves the borrower “underwater,” meaning you will owe more on the house than it is worth. Translated into real world terms, it means that if you do need to sell, you will either need to come up with cash at closing, or you will need to get the lender to agree to a short sale – which they may not be willing to do.
If you do go with a zero down loan, try to have something stowed somewhere else, outside of a retirement account, earning interest or dividends for you. Ideally, this pot of money should be invested in something besides real estate – so that if the value of your home falls, this other stash of money doesn’t fall with it. It’s just another safety net to see you through tough times. The good news: The fact that the VA does allow for no-down-payment mortgages gives you the flexibility to keep your savings in something more liquid than home equity.
A recent doctoral thesis by University of Utah graduate student Catherine Caska suggests that the negative health effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, spill over into spouses, too.
The study compared emotional and physiological responses of two groups of military veterans and their partners during and after engaging in a “disagreement task” set in a clinically-monitored environment. The veterans in one group had been diagnosed with PTSD, and those in the control group had not.
According to the researchers, the most remarkable finding was that the partners of veterans with PTSD showed even greater increases in blood pressure during conflict than the veterans with PTSD themselves, suggesting that these partners may be at similar, if not greater, risk for health consequences from relationship conflict and PTSD as the veterans.
The study found that female spouses and other partners of veterans who have PTSD had even bigger blood pressure spikes than the vets. While the fact that those diagnosed with PTSD are liable to have significant blood pressure increases during periods of stress has been long established, Caska’s study was the first to look specifically at the experiences of spouses.
“Overall, we found that couples where the veteran has PTSD showed greater emotional and relationship distress than military couples without PTSD,” said Caska. “The couples affected by PTSD also showed greater increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and other indicators of cardiovascular health risk in response to the relationship conflict. Veterans with PTSD showed larger increases in blood pressure in response to the relationship conflict discussion than did veterans without PTSD. These responses and the greater emotional reactions and overall relationship distress reported by veterans with PTSD could contribute to the increased risk of cardiovascular disease previously found to be associated with PTSD.”
Caska is no newcomer to the study of the unique mental health problems and needs of military families. In 2009, she authored a thesis paper called Caregiver Burden in Spouses of National Guard/Reserve Service Members Deployed During Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.
Caska also co-wrote a chapter in the book Risk and Resilience in U.S. Military Families entitled “Distress in in Spouses of Combat Veterans with PTSD: The Importance of Interpersonally-Based Cognitions and Behaviors.”
“The results of our study emphasize the potential role of relationship difficulties in the increased risk for cardiovascular disease among Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans with PTSD,” concludes Caska. “These data also suggest the possibility of similar heath risks for their partners. These findings could have important implications for the focus of treatments and services for this population, and further drives home the need to continue to focus research and resources on understanding and better serving military families.”
On the night of June 5th, 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt took to the radio airwaves to announce that Allied troops had entered Rome. The spectacular news that Rome had been liberated was quickly superceded by news of the gigantic D-Day invasion which began at 6:30 a.m. on June 6th. By midnight, about 57,000 American and 75,000 British and Canadian soldiers had made it ashore, amid losses that included 2,500 killed and 8,500 wounded.
Below, you can listen to the prayer he read to the nation on radio on the evening of D-Day, June 6, 1944, while American, British and Canadian troops were fighting to establish five beach heads on the coast of Normandy in northern France.
"Let Our Hearts Be Stout"
The news was met with relief from many across Europe, including one girl the world had yet to meet:
"This is D-day", came the announcement over the British radio. The invasion has begun! According to the German news, British parachute troops have landed on the French coast. British landing craft are in battle with the German Navy, says the BBC. Great commotion in the 'Secret Annexe'! Would the long-awaited liberation that has been talked of so much but which still seems too wonderful, too much like a fairy-tale, ever come true? Could we be granted victory this year, 1944? We don't know yet, but hope is revived within us; it gives us fresh courage, and makes us strong again." — Anne Frank, Diary Entry, 6 June 1944
This week, we gave thanks to the thousands of heroes who stormed the beaches that day. May we never forget their bravery and sacrifice.
We hope you have a blessedly peaceful weekend.
The current average wait time for new Veterans Administration claims in Florida is 433 days.
That’s the latest, according to a report today from WFTV News, serving Central Florida from Orlando to Daytona Beach and Melbourne. The wait time for Florida veterans is therefore nearly twice the national average, which is 273 days.
That’s the result of a mounting backlog at the VA regional office for Florida. There is only one regional office in the entire state. VA officials state the backlog is due to the large concentration of veterans within the state of Florida. However, that’s hardly news – the VA has not mentioned why it wouldn’t staff the Florida office appropriately.
Since President Obama was inaugurated in 2009, the number of veterans waiting a year or more for their benefits has exploded from 11,000 to 245,000. That amounts to a more than 2,000 percent increase, according to reporting earlier this year from the Center for Investigative Reporting. The same organization also reports this week that with the 2012 election safely over, the VA has “backed off” its promise to reduce the claims backlog.
According to WFTV’s reporting, a VA official states that the Administration has decided to devote resources to creating a paperless system, rather than create more regional offices in Florida.
The Tough Mudder, a popular 12-mile adventure race complete with obstacles, plenty of mud, and a beer at the finish line, is reviewing its obstacles and procedures following the tragic death of a participant in a water obstacle at a Tough Mudder event at the Peacemaker National Training Center near Glengary, West Virginia.
Avishek Sengupta, a 28 year-old from Ellicott City, Maryland, was found in the water in the “Walk the Plank obstacle on Saturday, April 22nd, and died the following day at a hospital in Falls Church, Virginia.
Tough Mudder is a prominent supporter of the Wounded Warrior project, and has raised over $5.5 million dollars to fund programs for wounded servicemembers.
The Walk the Plan obstacle requires participants to climb a platform and then jump 15 feet into a pool of water, then swim out.
"We are undergoing a thorough review of the protocol for all obstacles, including the one that was involved in this incident. We are also internally reviewing how we brief and manage our water safety personnel," Ashley Pinakiewicz, the corporate communications director for Tough Mudder said in a telephone interview with The Journal.
Peacemaker National Training Center director Cole McCullough said that despite the death and the 19 other people hospitalized, including two heart attacks, the event went “very well” overall, according to reporting from the Herald-Mail.
I know what you’re thinking: Where do I sign up for the next one?
Image courtesy of muddernation.com
The Rutherford Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving civil liberties, has filed suit against the Government on behalf of a Marine veteran who was jailed and then involuntarily committed to a VA psychiatric hospital for posts he wrote on his Facebook page.
According to the Rutherford Institute, a team of police, FBI agents and Secret Service personnel came to the home of Brandon Raub, then 26, near Richmond, Virginia, and asked to speak with him about the content he was posting on his Facebook account. He had been posting a lot of song lyrics, politics content, and items that suggested that the U.S. Government itself had masterminded the attacks on 9/11. For example, he posted a photograph of the damage to the Pentagon in the aftermath of the attack, with the caption, “where’s the plane?,” suggesting that the Pentagon was struck by a missile, not by a passenger jet.
Again, according to the Rutherford Institute and contemporary news accounts, the agents asked him to step outside, and without explanation nor charges, nor did they read him his rights at the time of the arrest, part of which was captured on cell phone video.
Raub was taken to the police station, and from there transported to the psychiatric ward of a local VA Medical Center, where he was held against his will until he received a hearing. Virginia law allows physicians to hold individuals in psychiatric institutions involuntarily for a period of time if they believe they may be a danger to themselves or other people. A magistrate reviews the involuntary hold in a few days to ensure that there is a rational legal basis for the hold.
Meanwhile, his mother, Cathleen Thomas, was able to get on Facebook herself to generate publicity and get attorneys to work on Raub’s behalf.
Raub received a hearing before the magistrate four days after his arrest, on August 20th. At that hearing, law enforcement officers told the magistrate that his controversial Facebook posts were the sole reason for the hold. Among the posts that law enforcement found troubling were the lines, “sharpen up my axe and I’m back/ it’s time to sever heads.” This post and others in that vein had caused others who saw the Facebook posts to report him to authorities. Raub countered that his posts were actually song lyrics, or dialogue from an online card game, and law enforcement officials were reading them out of context. The axe quote above is indeed from the lyrics to a song called “Bring Me Down” from a band called Swollen Member. However, the judge ruled against Raub, and ordered him to be held involuntarily for another 30 days. Officials also ordered him transferred to a facility some three hours away from his legal team and his family.
At that point, Raub’s attorneys, provided to him by the Rutherford Institute, appealed to the court system for his release. On August 23rd, a judge threw the case out, ruling that there was no factual basis to detain Raub, and ordered him released immediately.
The judge found that the paperwork used to send police to Raub’s door contained “no facts,” that Raub was not informed of the reason for his detention as required by law, and that the charging sheet contained a signature but not even an allegation of a crime. The affidavit detaining Raub, the judge ruled, was “so devoid of any factual allegations that it could not be reasonably expected to give rise to a case or controversy.”
Raub, with the support of the Rutherford Institute is now suing the government for false imprisonment, denial of due process and unlawful search and seizure. He filed the suit last week, personally suing Daniel Bowen and Russell Granderson, both Chesterfield County law enforcement officers, as well as Michael Campbell, a licensed psychotherapist, and social worker Lloyd Chaser and LaTarsha Mason, according to the Chesterfield Observer.
Among the complaints: The therapist who advocated detaining Raub had not even met him.
The complaint also alleges that a special Department of Homeland Security program, called Operation Vigilant Eagle, contributed to Raub’s unlawful incarceration. Vigilant Eagle is ostensibly intended to help law enforcement prevent ‘lone wolf’ terrorist attacks. However, the DHS put special emphasis on returning Afghanistan and Iran veterans as potential risks for terrorist attacks.