Aaron Allmon

It’s rare in the noticeably compromised and hyper-politicized Air Force justice system that we have the opportunity to applaud a decision.

Today occasions one such rare moment, with Maj. Gen. Richard Clark’s sober, judicious, and responsible grant of partial clemency in the case of TSgt. Aaron Allmon, a decorated combat photographer hounded by overzealous prosecutors on transparently stacked charges after exhibiting socially maladroit conduct.

Allmon, who is under treatment for post-traumatic stress, served multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also served a month in prison after being convicted on two charges — one of “maltreating” a subordinate, and another for lying to prosecutors about the location of his cellphone. The government originally sought to jail Allmon for 130 years, piling up a broad array of charges that portrayed him as a sexual predator despite plainly apparent — and now officially valid — doubts about the evidence in the case and the reliability of witnesses.

After hearing Allmon’s request for clemency, Clark nullified the cellphone-related charge, which stood to create legal consequences wildly outsized from Allmon’s alleged actions. He didn’t want investigators looking at his phone because it contained private information Allmon felt should remain between him and his spouse. Clark was likely moved by the fact that Allmon did indeed surrender the phone after a short delay, and that no evidence found on it supported the claim by one of the complainants that she’d been texted by Allmon. Why prosecutors proceeded with the felony charge after realizing the entire search had been founded on a lie is neither apparent nor defensible.

The Allmon case is a prime exhibit of the absurd warping of the Air Force’s justice system. Several witness accounts shifted over time, leaving Allmon culpable for a single charge related to showing a co-worker a photo of his wife wearing a bikini. For this end result, the Air Force held his life in jeopardy and discredited the legitimacy of its entire legal system. Only the backlash against sexual misconduct — fueled by the withering politics of social justice irresponsibly injected into law — explains such a set of circumstances.

It will be interesting to note whether and how Clark’s decision to follow the dictates of his conscience impacts his path forward in the Air Force. Those familiar with the general are unsurprised at his morally courageous decision. Perhaps it can serve as a turning point for a service in danger of strangling the rights of accused airmen in pursuit of political vindication after failing — for far too long — to responsibly address the incidence of sexual assault in the ranks. 

While Clark’s decision ends felony-level criminal jeopardy for Allmon and theoretically puts him on the road to recovery, the case should not be closed just yet. The Air Force should carefully review prosecutorial decisions in the case, and determine whether discretion was properly exercised. Since Air Force Global Strike Command lawyers were almost certainly consulted in the case and likely influenced decisions, the review should come from service level and be conducted by someone outside the judge advocate community.

Commanders should also take an interest in the conduct of the complaining witnesses in this case, and whether they gave false official statements. In the case of the individual who clearly lied about being texted by Allmon — a lie that ultimately led to a felony conviction — a criminal investigation should be opened. Actual victims depend on a grant of presumptive credibility to have their complaints taken seriously, and nothing more rapidly or catastrophically erodes such presumptions as a false complaint. It cannot be tolerated, no matter the politics of confronting it.

Chalk one up for generals who do the right thing. For contrast, see the case of Michael Turpiano, which featured Brig. Gen. Robert LaBrutta caving to political pressure and sending charges to court contrary to the recommendation of the judge who reviewed the evidence. In today’s Air Force, LaBrutta (who has since been nominated for promotion) is the norm … and Clark is the exception. When that is reversed, it’ll have a lot to say about the overall direction of the Air Force, which can’t survive indefinitely without replenishment of a nearly bone-dry well of moral courage. Obedience, after all, is no substitute for duty.

This piece draws considerably on the able reporting of Rowan Scarborough of the Washington Times, who has dutifully covered the Allmon case from wire to wire.

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