(POLITICO) -- President Obama’s comments condemning military sexual assault and suggesting that those convicted be punished with, among other things, a dishonorable discharge may be backfiring on his efforts to root out the growing problem.
In pretrial hearings in two cases, a Navy judge in Hawaii ruled this week that Obama had exerted “unlawful command influence” as commander-in-chief in outlining the specific “consequences” he saw fit for members of the military convicted of sexual assault.
As a result of Navy Judge Cmdr. Marcus Fulton’s rulings, the defendants in United States v. Johnson and United States v. Fuentes can’t be punitively discharged, even if they’re convicted of sexual assault. Stars and Stripes first reported on the rulings.
“I expect consequences,” Obama said at a press conference in early May that came just as the Pentagon released a report detailing rising incidences of sexual assaults in 2012. “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, they’ve got to be held accountable — prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.”
Fulton wrote in his ruling that Obama’s comments raise “concern” because they “may indicate that a particular result is required of the military justice system.”
As soon as Obama made his off-the-cuff comment, military lawyers began to voice concern that his comments might be detrimental. “I thought of the unlawful command influence issue as soon as he spoke,” said James Mackler, a private attorney and Army reserve lawyer who was involved in sexual assault cases while on active duty.