President Obama’s denunciation of sexual assault in the military has emerged, ironically, as a defense used by people charged with the crime who say that he unfairly influenced their cases. Obama’s spokesman disagrees.
“I think the president’s words reflect his general views about the seriousness of the problem — which has been amply documented — about the particular significance of it taking place within the military, and how he believes that those who engage in that conduct are dishonoring the uniform that they wear,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters during the press briefing Monday.“Specific cases have to be adjudicated,” he added. Obama called for the dishonorable discharge of service-members who commit sexual assaults. “And for those who are in uniform who have experienced sexual assault, I want them to hear directly from their Commander-In-Chief that I’ve got their backs,” Obama said on May 7, 2013, when asked about a Pentagon report that 70 sexual assaults take place in the military each day. “I don’t want just more speeches or awareness programs or training but, ultimately, folks look the other way. If we find out somebody is engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable — prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period. It’s not acceptable.” Those comments amount to “unlawful command influence,” according to defense teams and some military judges. “‘Unlawful command influence’ refers to actions of commanders that could be interpreted by jurors as an attempt to influence a court-martial, in effect ordering a specific outcome,” the New York Times explained. “Mr. Obama, as commander in chief of the armed forces, is considered the most powerful person to wield such influence.”