President Barack Obama's admonishment of sexual offenders in the military has backfired and his actions are muddling ongoing trials in what some judges and defense lawyers describe as "unlawful command influence" that could set offenders free.
Obama's recent remarks that sexual offenders should be "prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorable discharged," have already tainted a dozen trials and will likely complicate prosecution in future cases, the New York Times reports.
"When the commander in chief says they will be dishonorably discharged that's a pretty specific message. Every military defense counsel will make a motion about this," said Thomas J. Romig, a former Army judge advocate general and dean of the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kan.
"His remarks were more specific than I've ever heard a commander in chief get," Romig said.
"Unlawful command influence" occurs when a military commander, or commander in chief in Obama's case, orders a specific outcome to a court-martial.
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The New York cites several recent incidents where Obama's comments were in play in ongoing court-martials: sexual assault charges against an Army officer were dismissed by a judge at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina last month, and at Fort Bragg in North Carolina defense lawyers quoted the president in a motion to dismiss.
were in response to a reporter's question and followed on the heels of a Pentagon survey that estimated 26,000 sexual assaults occurred last year.
The White House is now defending his comments as a list of suggestions for how the problem could be handled.
"The president was absolutely not trying to be prescriptive," said Kathryn Ruemmler, White House counsel. "He was listing a range of examples of how offenders could be held accountable. The president expects all military personnel who are involved in any way in the military justice process to exercise their independent professional judgment."
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