Two service members charged with sexual assault cannot be kicked out of the military, even if they are convicted, because comments made by President Obama about the issue constitute “unlawful command influence,” according to a military judge in Hawaii.
“A member of the public would not hear the President’s statement to be a simple admonition to hold members accountable,” Navy Judge Cmdr. Marcus Fulton ruled during a pretrial hearing, according to Stars and Stripes. “A member of the public would draw the connection between the ‘dishonorable discharge’ required by the President and a punitive discharge approved by the convening authority.”
Obama made the problematic comment while denouncing those members of the military 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 when asked about a Pentagon report that 7-0 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.”
If other judges agree with Fulton, the president’s remarks could inadvertently help sex offenders escape some forms of punishment. “I thought of the unlawful command influence issue as soon as he spoke,” Army Reserve lawyer James Mackler told Politico. “The principle behind it is a sound principle, which is that in the military there is a lot of pressure to follow the directives of your commanders, including the president.”