News Violence

Military General Criticized for Sexual Assault Prosecutions to Retire

Emily Crockett

Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin announced Wednesday that he is retiring to avoid being a further “distraction” for the Air Force.

Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, whose widely-criticized handling of a military sexual assault case sparked a national debate on whether to remove sexual assault prosecution from the chain of command, announced Wednesday that he is retiring to avoid being a further “distraction” for the Air Force.

Franklin initially caused controversy for overturning a guilty verdict against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson and reinstating him. Franklin later said he made the decision because Wilkerson did not seem like the kind of person who would commit sexual assault and that the victim, whom Franklin did not personally consult, did not seem reliable.

Franklin made headlines again last month, when he was removed from another sexual assault case after refusing to prosecute it and again refusing to comply with the victim’s request to speak with him.

“I am pleased that Lt. Gen. Franklin will no longer serve in his post, but take no joy in this outcome as it’s a painful reminder for the victims of military sexual assault that the deck is stacked against justice when commanders hold all the cards,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who is leading the charge to remove prosecution of serious crimes from the chain of command.

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Victims’ advocates say that the problem is systemic, and that more cases like Franklin’s are inevitable as long as commanders with no legal training are in charge of deciding whether to prosecute sexual assault cases.

“Franklin was doing his job, basically, under what the current system requires,” Greg Jacob, Service Women’s Action Network policy director and former Marine, told Rewire. The Uniform Code of Military Justice requires commanders to review sentencing, Jacob said, and, whether or not the decision seemed correct, it was Franklin’s to make.

“Until the military changes that and allows professional legal experts … to make judicial decisions, you’re going to continue to have potential for this kind of thing to happen,” Jacob said.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Ben Carson Tells Military to ‘Deal With the Transgender Thing Somewhere Else’

Ally Boguhn

“I mean why do you have to go around flouting your sexuality? It’s not necessary, you don’t need to talk about that, we need to talk about how we eliminate the enemy,” Carson said.

This week on the 2016 presidential campaign trail, Republicans condemned efforts to make the military more inclusive, strategized the best way to overturn Roe v. Wade, and racked up key endorsements from noted anti-choice advocates.

Carson and Trump Question U.S. Military’s Efforts to be More Inclusive

Both Ben Carson and Donald Trump this week commented on the United States military’s efforts to be more inclusive, denouncing plans to integrate both transgender people and women into the armed forces.

Speaking in Iowa on Saturday, Carson criticized allowing transgender people into the military, saying it amounted to using the armed services “as a laboratory for social experimentation.”

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Talking with a group of veterans, Carson said, “When our men and women are out there fighting the enemy, the last thing that we need to be doing is saying what would it be like if we introduced several transgender people into this platoon.”

“You know, give me a break, deal with the transgender thing somewhere else,” Carson continued before calling for the reinstatement of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

“I mean why do you have to go around flouting your sexuality? It’s not necessary, you don’t need to talk about that, we need to talk about how we eliminate the enemy,” Carson said.

Meanwhile, Trump doubled down on assertions that allowing women to serve in combat roles in the military will lead to more instances of sexual assault. During an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation, Trump responded to criticism over his previous statements by claiming allowing women to serve is a “very tricky subject.”

“You know, you’re in there, and you’re fighting, and you’re sitting next to a woman. Now, they want to be politically correct, they want to do it. But there are major problems,” Trump said.  

“Will it work out? I hope so. I can say this, the numbers of rapes in the military are through the roof. Through the roof,” he continued. 

Cruz Wins Endorsement of Influential Evangelical and Anti-Choice Advocate Bob Vander Plaats

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) picked up the high-profile endorsement of Iowa Evangelical leader and anti-choice advocate Bob Vander Plaats, a key win given the voting bloc the religious leader commands in Iowa.

“We will be going all in for Sen. Ted Cruz,” Vander Plaats said when announcing the endorsement. “We have found him as a man of deep character. A man that we can fully trust, who has a consistency of convictions, who loves his god, loves his spouse, and who loves his family. We also see him to be very, very competent. Not always popular, but very competent. He has challenged both sides of the aisle. He understands what it’s going to take to get the country out of the mess that we’re currently in. We believe that he is exceptionally competent and that adds to his extraordinary leadership.”

Vander Plaats, who is often referred to as “an evangelical kingmaker in Iowa,” has historically backed candidates who went on to win the Iowa caucus “including former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in 2012 and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008,” according to NPR.

Cruz appeared alongside six of his rival Republican candidates in hopes of swaying Vander Plaats to his side during The Family Leader’s Thanksgiving-themed Presidential Family Forum. The candidates spent the evening lamenting that “political correctness” had interfered with their attempts to spread misinformation about reproductive health care.

Carson Touts Anti-Abortion Stance in Desperate Effort to Regain Numbers

Carson, amid rapidly dropping support in the polls, attempted to recapture some of his lost momentum by pointing to his anti-choice record.

During an interview with Bloomberg Politics, Carson responded to criticism from Cruz supporters blasting Carson for an interview on ABC’s This Week in the wake of the Colorado Planned Parenthood shooting in which he said problematic rhetoric was coming “from both sides” of the abortion debate.

When asked about “evangelicals who have raised concerns about [his] position on abortion,” Carson touted his medical career and stringent stance against all abortion rights, which include no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

“One needs to look at my life,” Carson said. “Of all the people running, I think I can safely say I’m the only one who has ever saved anybody’s life. I’m the only one who has ever operated on premature babies all night long to save them—the only one who’s operated on babies inside of the womb, the only one who’s come up with new techniques and procedures to save lives, over which I got a lot of controversy early on, but now many of those things have become standard procedure that continue to save lives all over the world.”

Carson, who once notoriously said women who choose abortion were like slave owners who “thought that they had the right to do whatever they wanted to that slave,” continued that “there should be no question about where I stand on the life issue,” outlining how extreme his stance actually is.

“My position is that abortion should not be done. I believe that it’s murder and I don’t think that’s hateful speech. That’s just telling the truth. Including in cases of rape and incest,” he said.

Cruz and Rubio Hatch Plans to Do Away with Roe v. Wade

Both Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) have discussed ways to do away with Roe v. Wade and move forward with an outright ban on legal abortion, Right Wing Watch reported this week.

Rubio, during a recent interview on Christian Broadcasting Network’s The Brody File, outlined his plan to appoint Supreme Court justices willing to overturn decisions with which he disagrees.

“I think one of the biggest things the next President is going to do is appoint justices to the Supreme Court—justices who understand that the Constitution is not a living and breathing document. It is a document of limitation and it’s supposed to be interpreted and applied based on its original intent,” said Rubio.

“And there is no way that you can read that Constitution and deduce from it that there is constitutional right to an abortion, or a constitutional right to marry someone of the same sex. And what you have is a Supreme Court that wanted to reach a certain policy outcome and so creatively manipulated the Constitution to discover a right that for over two centuries, some of the most brilliant minds in legal history didn’t find,” he continued. 

Cruz similarly strategized against Roe during a recent interview with Catholic television network EWTN, claiming that the 14th Amendment coupled with radical “personhood” legislation could allow the landmark Supreme Court decision on abortion to be bypassed.

When asked if he believes “that unborn babies are persons within the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment” and if he would “call on Congress to use its authority under the 14th Amendment” to protect the “unborn,” Cruz replied that he “absolutely” would.

Cruz and Rubio’s hard line stance against Roe come while leading Republican candidate Donald Trump’s position remains in question. Trump refused to answer whether he would overturn the decision when asked during a recent campaign rally.

News Law and Policy

Military Sexual Assault Reform Blocked Again in Senate

Emily Crockett

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s quest for military justice reform faced another setback on Tuesday, when the Senate blocked a vote to include the Military Justice Improvement Act as an amendment to the 2016 defense spending bill.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s quest for military justice reform faced another setback on Tuesday, when the Senate blocked a vote to include the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) as an amendment to the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The amendment failed on a 50-49 vote; it had majority support, but did not get the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster. Last year, the MJIA fell five votes short of overcoming a filibuster.

The MJIA would end the practice of letting military commanders make decisions about prosecuting sexual assault cases from their ranks.

Gillibrand, along with many advocates for military sexual assault survivors, says these reforms are necessary because survivors don’t trust the system. Commanders often retaliate against survivors, or they may even be the ones accused of assault. Even sympathetic commanders are said to lack the legal training they would need to properly assess the cases.

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A recent report from Human Rights Watch found reports of retaliation against service members who report sexual assault. Survivors most often report being socially ostracized and threatened with violence by their peers, but they say commanders also retaliate by refusing to promote victims or demoting them to lesser duties.

The Pentagon’s most recent survey on sexual assault found that rates of retaliation haven’t changed, and that one in seven survivors was assaulted by someone in their chain of command.

“It is unacceptable that the retaliation rate has remained unchanged, and that the Pentagon cannot point to a single case where a penalty was levied against an individual who retaliated against a survivor who reported,” Gillibrand said in a statement after the vote.

The MJIA has an unlikely list of bipartisan supporters, including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY). A prominent Democratic opponent of the bill is Sen. Claire McCaskill (R-MO), who says that the reform wouldn’t do anything to prevent retaliation.

Gillibrand has called on President Obama to publicly support the bill, arguing that military brass—and thus the members of Congress who follow the Pentagon’s lead—would change their position “overnight” if the commander-in-chief declared the reform necessary.

“Those opposed to a fair justice system for our troops and their families are listening to the same generals that were against gay Americans serving their country or allowing women to serve equally,” said retired Colonel Don Christensen, the Air Force’s former chief prosecutor, in a statement.