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American general faces sex crimes trial

Published time: March 03, 2014 20:48
Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair.(Reuters /U.S. Army / Handout)

Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair.(Reuters /U.S. Army / Handout)

A military court in the state of North Carolina will start proceedings this week against Jeffrey Sinclair, the former deputy commander of American forces in southern Afghanistan accused of an array of sexual assault charges.

If convicted of the most serious of charges, Sinclair, 51, could be sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison and would be permanently branded as a sex offender.

Proceedings against the soldier are expected to begin in Winston-Salem, NC on Tuesday, but don’t come without delay: last month, the military’s lead prosecutor abruptly resigned from the case citing “personal reasons.” Shortly after, it was revealed that the attorney, Lt. Col. William Helixon, doubted the allegations being made by Sinclair’s lead accuser.

Nevertheless, the start of proceedings this week is expected to not just shine a light on those allegations and others against Sinclair, but also offer a rare look at how sexual assault cases are handled by a military ripe with accusations of misconduct.

Diane Mazur, a former Air Force officer and professor of military and constitutional law at the University of Florida, told Reuters that "This case is illustrating why the current system can be very counter-productive.”

“Sinclair's attorneys argue that defense officials facing intense political pressure to curb sexual violence in the military have targeted an officer who has served five combat tours with sex charges that hang on weak evidence and an unreliable primary witness,” Reuters journalist Colleen Jenkins reported on Monday.

Indeed, reports of such assaults within the military increased by 60 percent between fiscal years 2012 and 2013, a spokesperson for the Pentagon told the newswire. With regards to the allegations against Sinclair, however, his case represents a rare instance in which an officer with a tremendous amount of authority is being court-martialed for alleged sex crimes.

Sinclair has been charged with forcible sodomy and adultery related to an extramarital relationship and inappropriate conduct with several women. Less than two weeks ago, however, his attorneys filed a motion asking the military court to dismiss all charges over claims that the soldier’s top accuser cannot be trusted. The judge, Col. James Pohl, has previously denied two other attempts from the defense to have charges dropped.

“We’re in a remarkable place,” lead defense lawyer Richard L. Scheff told the New York Times recently, “when the Army insists on trying charges that rest solely on the word of a perjurer, when even its leadership doesn’t believe the charges.”

Sinclair is accused of violating military code at Fort Bragg, as well as bases in Germany, Iraq and Afghanistan, where the encounters were described graphically to the court as occurring “in a parking lot, in his office in Afghanistan with the door open, on an exposed balcony at a hotel and on a plane, where he allegedly groped a woman.”

Earlier this week, the Times reported that Sinclair has admitted to having a three-year consensual affair with his main accuser, a 34-year-old captain, but denies allegations that he forced her to perform oral sex on him and threatened to kill her if she disclosed the alleged encounters.

"He had inappropriate behavior, but it's not coercive behavior," Scheff told Reuters this week.

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