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According to an internal document obtained by John Q. Public, a retired Air Force O-10 and former commander of Air Mobility Command (AMC) has been accused of sexual assault by an active duty O-6 who says she was assaulted while under his command.

The bulletin, which originated in the AMC command center, describes a complaint lodged earlier this year — first under restricted reporting rules and later as an unrestricted report. It refers to three incidents alleged to have occurred between April 2007 and April 2009 … incidents in which the male accused — then the alleged victim’s commander — is said to have used his position and power to coerce the female complainant into sexual activity.

From the report:

“Offender was the victim’s commander at the time of the first two incidents of sexual assault and used his position of power to coerce sexual contact. Incidents include inappropriate touching of victim’s breasts, oral sodomy, and penetration.”

While the report doesn’t name the accused, it does identify him as the former commander of AMC. It’s worth emphasizing that the report’s details are not definitive, and could be referring to a former AMC commander at a different time in his career.

It can’t be stressed emphatically enough that whoever is eventually named in this report, that person is innocent until proven guilty and entitled to due process, to include the right to confront his accuser in a court of law. According to the internal memo, the alleged victim was scheduled to be interviewed by investigators from the Office of Special Investigations on Thursday. If that interview yields credible evidence that an assault took place, publicly noticeable movement in the case is likely to follow swiftly. This first report does not mention why the victim took as long as she did to step forward.

While a case like this is about pursuing the truth of events and potentially affirming the dignity of the victim of a horrible criminal act, it also has obvious public implications for an institution that has struggled with the issue of sexual assault and is seen by many to cultivate an unacceptable double standard, with senior officers passing judgment on lower ranking airmen and officers while subject to undue political pressure and lacking appropriate impartiality. As this case may end up showing, senior officers are often harboring closeted misconduct skeletons of their own.

This report is likely to renew Congressional interest in military justice reform, especially if it becomes evident that a 4-star commander committed sexual assault while presiding over harsh punishments (or inappropriate exonerations) for others in similar cases. it underscores how years of message bombardment, PR campaigns, and ham-handed violence reduction efforts haven’t put a dent in the core problem of raising and putting into positions of power and responsibility those with criminality in their hearts. To an extent, this is an intractable problem. But it’s disheartening to many critical observers that the Air Force is reticent to acknowledge the reality made evident by cases like this, and to submit for legitimate debate the prospect that until it can do a better job of raising morally upright senior officers, those senior officers should not hold in their hands the legal authority to condemn and imprison their fellow citizens. 

Whoever ends up in the cross-hairs of this nascent scandal, it underscores that the high-paid help are no less susceptible to moral, ethical, and indeed criminal fallibility than those who fall under their command. It’s one of the reasons it’s so important to choose with the utmost care those who will wield massive military authority. It’s also a reason to responsibly curtail that authority.

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