If the two bureaucrats in this picture look confused, it’s because they are. These two did more to damage the Air Force in the four years as Secretary and Chief of Staff than anyone could have imagined in the darkest of dreams. In no area was their special blend of cynical rationalism and bumbling ineptitude more evident than in military justice, where their idiocy continues to reverberate months after they’ve departed for lucrative board positions with defense contractors.
I wrote in 2015 that Gen. Welsh was endangering the fundamental fairness of military justice with comments making it clear he was anxious to unfairly over-punish in order to appease his political lords. We’re now starting to experience some of the inevitable fallout of his “ends justify the means” approach to matters of law and order.
In 2014, Rodney Boyce was convicted at General Court Martial of rape as well as assault consummated by battery. His case had been sent to Court Martial by Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, who at the time was in the waning days of his career and laboring under a dark cloud of disapproval for his handling of the case of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson. Franklin had used his clemency authority to wipe Wilkerson’s legal slate clean after he’d been convicted of sexual assault.
The case set off a chain reaction of official doubt, second-guessing, and recrimination among legislators, advocacy groups, and legal watchdogs. An appeals court has now ruled that Franklin’s referral of Boyce’s charges was subject to the appearance of Unlawful Command Influence (UCI), meaning it could appear to an objective observer that Franklin’s decision was influenced by trying to please his boss rather than serve the interests of justice.
The backstory, drawn from the opinion issued by the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in U.S. v. Boyce, is equal measures pathetic, predictable, and important.
In late 2013, Deborah Lee James took over as Secretary of the Air Force. In her confirmation hearings, she’d been repeatedly beasted by various Senators about the Air Force’s struggle to deal with the issue of sexual assault. Upon taking office, she did what career bureaucrats do: she responded to all that political pressure by allowing it to color her decisions.
Days after being sworn in, James made it clear to Welsh that she wanted Franklin’s professional head on a pike over the Wilkerson matter. She had, despite never working with Franklin nor likely even taking the time to properly review the Wilkerson matter, managed to lose confidence in Franklin’s ability to execute his duties.
Welsh, being the perfectly limp doormat he is, relayed the message to Franklin, giving him a choice between retiring at a lower rank or waiting to be fired by James.
Franklin, unwilling to put his neck on the chopping block for someone else to chop, simply beheaded himself, submitting his intent to retire.
But in the interim between promising to retire and actually doing so, he continued to act on legal matters, and the two stooges in Washington — believing the Air Force could remain a picture of perfect health simply by the divine intervention evident in their appointments — allowed him to continue. This is a crystalline example of the gutless, PC approach of James throughout her tenure. If she didn’t have confidence in Franklin, she should have had the commitment to principle to fire him immediately rather than giving him the latitude to set his own exit timeline while continuing to exercise life-changing authority over tens of thousands of airmen.
Boyce’s case arose during this zone of twilight between Franklin’s soft firing and his retirement. He sent the case to court knowing (and openly acknowledging) that doing so created at least the perception of UCI.
Now, because a court has rightly recognized Franklin’s decision was influenced by the threat of what might happen to him if he went against the known wishes and views of his SecAF and CSAF, a victim will watch her rapist go free. Not because he’s innocent, but because the Air Force’s senior-most leaders were bold enough to intervene but too feckless to do so definitively. Because they were inappropriately involved in matters of law and order, not out of an interest in justice but out of an interest in pleasing their political masters and feathering their own nests.
For James, the motivation was likely just a bigger desk and a longer title in some future Democrat administration. For Welsh, it was likely just about keeping Congress onside so he could build more fighters and grow the blue budget.
No matter their motivations, these two are responsible for perverting the course of justice, and for demonstrating a complete lack of principle. It’s a practical impossibility that either will be held accountable … a thing reserved for low-ranking airmen and not the big bosses.
You can’t trust Air Force courts to find justice anymore. They are inescapably tainted by the influence of politics. See here, here, and here for more examples … and here for yet another example of how our military courts are regressive and undeserving of our confidence.