Imposing Justice Outside the Chain of Command Looking Pretty Good at the Naval Academy

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A Naval Academy plebe crawls through the mud during Sea Trials at the end of a midshipman's first year at Annapolis.

Now three members of the U.S. Naval Academy’s football team find themselves the subject of an investigation into charges they raped a fellow midshipman a year ago at a house the football team apparently rented illicitly off-campus.

The unidentified woman concedes she was drunk, and only learned of the alleged serial assaults after word leak out onto various social-media sites frequented by some of the nation’s future Navy and Marine officers.

She complained that she lost her driving and off-campus weekend privileges for drinking, while the football players were able to continue donning their uniforms and playing for the academy. The alleged victim was obligated to attend home football games, like all midshipmen. She blamed herself, in part, for what happened, the New York Times reported Saturday. So she didn’t cooperate fully with the Navy investigation.

“Throughout 2012, the Naval Academy superintendent did nothing, instead closing the investigation without charges, and blaming the victim’s unwillingness to cooperate further as the reason for the closure,” Susan Burke, the woman’s lawyer, said Friday.

Vice Admiral Michael Miller, the academy superintendent, is due to rule on what punishment the three face after he receives the results of a Naval Criminal Investigative Service probe into the case, expected soon.

The national spotlight has already swiveled toward him, not unlike an ant upon which sadistic boys focus the concentrated sunlight of a magnifying glass.

“It’s like, to the academy, it never happened, and it was all brushed away,” the alleged victim’s mother said in Sunday’s Washington Post.

It’s at times like this that the victim may not be the only one wishing for a ruling to come down from someone outside the chain of command. Advocates of improved justice for those alleging sexual assault in the military, championed by female lawmakers on Capitol Hill, are pushing for such a change. Led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., they want a specially-trained corps of military prosecutors to handle allegations of sexual assault, and other serious crimes, instead of the commanders of those accused. Many in uniform say retaining that authority within the chain of command is vital to maintaining good order and discipline in the ranks.

But in such a high-profile case, it’s a safe bet that the three football players themselves might also prefer judgment come from outside their chain of command.

“The people who are accused ought to be in favor” of the change, Eugene Fidell, a Yale lecturer and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said before news of the academy case broke. “Then you won’t have commanders making decisions because they think it’s the politically-correct thing to do.”

Safe bet that Admiral Miller wishes that change had been made last year.