The latest court martial arising from the sex scandal involving trainees and instructors at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland convenes Thursday just as a Senate Armed Services subcommittee takes up the issue of sexual assault among the military.
Staff Sgt. Eddy Soto, an instructor in the 323rd Training Squadron, faces several charges, including rape, sexual assault and adultery, as well as having unprofessional relationships with a student and an immediate family member of a trainee.
Among the issues raised at the subcommittee hearing in Washington was whether Congress should rescind the power given to base commanders to reduce court martial verdicts.
“Professionalizing the system, actually putting legal experts in charge of the process serves everyone better,” said Anu Bhagwati, executive director and co-founder of the Service Women’s Action Network.
However, Jeffrey Addicott, a law professor at St. Mary’s University and a former Army judge advocate general, said he disagrees.
“I don’t see the need to overturn the entire system because you have one convening authority that made a bad call,” Addicott said.
Addicott referred to a controversial decision by the base commander of Aviano AFB in Italy to return a pilot to active duty after throwing out his sexual assault conviction. He said the reason behind the move is unknown at this point.
Of the nine convictions arising out of the scandal at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland, spokesman Brent Boller said none have been overturned by the base commander. He said 11 cases are pending.
Boller said 32 accused and 62 victims are involved in the scandal -- of those, 10 cases involved sexual assault, while the rest had a range of charges.
Also the director of the Center for Terrorism Law , Addicott said since Congress granted base commanders the authority to convene courts martial, “It seems logical that they should be the one that looks it over when the case is concluded.”
Addicott said commanders can only decrease the amount of punishment.
Even so, several members of Congress already have introduced a measure to change that aspect of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Still Addicott said, “Generally, the convening authority does not touch the verdict, unless there is something blatantly unfair.”