Over serious charges of sexual assault, this week Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair of the US army faced trial in a military court-martial. This would make Gen. Sinclair the third US general in over fifty years to be court-martialed. Even though the general has pleaded not guilty and is yet to take the stand regarding the sexual assault charges, last week he plead guilty to a host of other sex related crimes. These include possession of pornography, coercing junior female officers to send him their nude pictures and engaging in an affair with a subordinate female officer.
Gen. Sinclair is accused of sexually assaulting the very same female army captain he had previously pleaded guilty to having an affair with. She is by age 20 years junior to the general who is 51 and the illicit affair is said to have taken place over a period of three years. The captain identified Gen. Sinclair from the witness stand and broke into tears as she testified how she was pressured into engaging in an affair with the general. She quoted Gen. Sinclair as having said “I will kill you and your family, and I will do it in a way no one will ever know” if word were to ever get out about their affair. On more than one occasion the captain also alleges that the general forced her to engage in oral sex with him after a heated argument.
Sinclair is the first US General and reportedly also the highest ranking American military officer in history to face a court-martial proceeding over sexual assault charges. If convicted, he could face life imprisonment. Before the sex scandals, General Sinclair had a bright career with the US Army. He was once deputy commander of the 82 Airborne and is described by his peers to have been a ‘rising star’ in the military. For the charges he has already plead guilty to, he faces a variety of punishments which include up to 15 years of imprisonment, fines and having to retire with a rank demotion.
Even with the loss of one star in rank, Gen. Sinclair would still get to keep 70% of his salary for the rest of his life. The army captain who has testified against Sinclair has yet to record her testimony about the other forced sexual acts. Gen Sinclair has not responded to these charges in court. His defense has made the argument that the army captain was really a ‘longtime mistress,’ and she decided to press charges against the general when he refused to leave his wife. To the credit of the defense there are journal entries by the army captain professing her ‘love,’ on numerous occasions for the general.
While the defense may try to spin these statements to prove that this relationship was entirely consensual, the proceedings of this trial are being closely watched by Congress. The timing and the stakes with regards to the seniority of the alleged military officer have reignited a debate over whether the armed forces were capable of prosecuting sex crimes within its ranks. Recently a motion in Congress authored by Sen Kristen Gillibrand of NY to take away the power of senior US military officials to try sexual assault charges in a court-martial proceeding was defeated by a filibuster and this event is bound to give rise to a closer scrutiny of General Sinclair’s trial.
By Unni K. Nair