An Army judge said this week that politics had an undue effect on the court-martial of Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair, allowing the defense an opportunity to renegotiate with the prosecution over some of Sinclair's lesser charges.
This case has been up and down over the past week. On Monday, the judge said he would not dismiss the sexual assault charges against Sinclair. But on Tuesday he said he'd allow Sinclair's attorneys to re-offer a deal that did not include some of the most serious charges against him.
The week prior, the prosecution dropped some of their charges – conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman and cruelty and maltreatment – though Sinclair is currently still charged with forcible sodomy, a severe enough charge that he could get life in prison. If he is just found guilty of lesser charges, like having an inappropriate relationship with a fellow member of the military and possessing pornography, it'll just be 15 years.
The issue at stake now is one of undue government interference. Army emails released during the court case this week indicate that, according to Reuters, Sinclair's victim "had a credibility issue." However, they suggest that the case was brought forward because of "politics rather than justice"; the implication here is that if sexual assault in the military wasn't such a hot button issue right now, her case wouldn't stand up and Sinclair would not have been under such scrutiny to begin with.
Much of the issue with the victim's so-called credibility stems from a lie the defense says she told about whether or not she had kept a phone with text messages on it she'd exchanged with Sinclair. Also brought up were the references by her lawyer that the case "would have an adverse effect on my client and the Army's fight against sexual assault." In her emails, the attorney also mentioned Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's now defunct bill on removing sexual assault cases from the jurisdiction of military commanders.
Whether or not the victim has been properly discredited, this case has definitely been mishandled from the beginning. Outside of that, reports of her testimony are heartbreaking. She describes having a consensual affair with Sinclair at times, but much of their relationship sounds abusive. As detailed in the LA Times:
Under gentle questioning from the lead prosecutor, Lt. Col. Robert Stelle, the captain said Sinclair was regarded as "a god" in the 82nd Airborne Division. She said she feared "the 82nd would try to cover it up and make it look like I was crazy" if she came forward.
"I felt like there was no hope, sir," she told Stelle. "You don't make accusations against people in the 82nd.... It was going to be my word against his, and nobody would believe me. I had no way out."
In addition, she said, she feared that Sinclair would find a way to fire her and ruin her career.
"Who was going to believe my word against a one-star general?" she said.
As lawyers from each side work this out, the case may not be back in court for a few weeks.
Image via Pfc. Andrew Geisler, 1-25 SBCT Public Affairs/U.S. Army/Flickr