The Air Force has charged a two-star general with sexual assault, which opens up the possibility of the first court-martial for a general officer in the Air Force in the military branch’s entire 73 years of existence. The general in question, Air Force Maj. Gen. William Cooley, was charged with one count of sexual assault for an August 2018 incident where he allegedly made unwanted sexual advances towards a civilian woman.
On January 27, Cooley will face an Article 32 preliminary hearing, which is a process similar to a civilian grand jury, where a senior military judge will review the charge against him and could decide to send the case to a court-martial. Cooley is denying the sexual assault accusation, with his attorney claiming that the Air Force lacks the evidence to support their allegations.
Don Christensen, the leader of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for victims of sexual assault in the military, says that the court-martial would set a new precedent.
“If Maj. Gen. Cooley actually is tried by a court-martial, it will mark the first time in the Air Force’s 73-year history that it has prosecuted a general officer,” Christensen said. “For far too long, the Air Force has operated a two-tier justice system in which senior officers are held to a lower standard than the men and women they lead. Hopefully, this is a sign that the Air Force is finally recognizing the corrosive effect on good order and discipline when general officers are allowed to evade accountability for their criminal acts.”
USA Today reports that since 2013, investigators have found over 500 cases of serious misconduct among generals, admirals, and senior civilians in the military. Almost half of these cases involve “personal or ethical lapses,” a category which includes sexual harassment, assault, and adultery (which is a crime under military law.)