Hagel Seeks Limits on Commanders' Power

NGAUS Washington Report

(April 9, 2013) Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will ask Congress to change military law so that commanders cannot overturn major convictions, the secretary announced in a written statement issued Monday.

Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice currently gives power to “convening authorities,” or commanders, to set aside a conviction or decrease punishment following a court-martial, although convening authorities cannot change a “not guilty” verdict or increase a sentence.

Under the secretary’s proposed changes, which have the strong support of NGAUS, a convening authority would no longer have the authority to set aside a conviction for major offenses such as sexual assault. The accused will continue to have the right to appeal the conviction. Also, convening authorities would be required to explain in writing any changes made to the findings or sentences of a court-martial.

“These changes, if enacted by Congress, would help ensure that our military justice system works fairly, ensures due process, and is accountable,” the secretary wrote. “These changes would increase the confidence of service members and the public that the military justice system will do justice in every case.”

His proposal has the full support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service secretaries, Hagel said.

“I look forward to working with Congress on these proposals and others to improve accountability for these crimes,” he added.

Hagel ordered a review of Article 60 in March after convening authority Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, the 3rd Air Force commander, overturned the sexual assault conviction of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson. Last year, a panel of military officers found Wilkerson guilty in court-martial proceedings at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The judge sentenced him to a year in prison and dismissal from the Air Force.