A leading lawmaker has called out the Air Force for never court-martialing a single general officer in its entire history, suggesting it shows higher-ranking personnel face different standards of punishment.
“I think we do have a problem with different spanks for different ranks,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, said in a Feb. 7 House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel hearing on senior leader misconduct. “As I understand it, there have been 70,000 courts-martial in the Air Force, for instance, and not one general officer has ever been court-martialed.”
While Speier zeroed in on the Air Force’s lack of courts-martial for generals, she noted problems in other services as well. She cited two former Army generals ― Maj. Gen. Ron Lewis, who used his government credit card at strip clubs in Rome and Seoul, along with other infractions, and Gen. William “Kip” Ward, who misused thousands of taxpayer dollars, borrowed military aircraft for personal use, and had staff members run personal errands for him. But while both officers lost a star ― and Ward was ordered to repay $82,000 ― neither was court-martialed.
“A junior enlisted would get prosecuted” for doing what Lewis did, Speier said. And when referring to Ward’s offenses, she said, “That’s theft, and under normal circumstances, that would be subject to a court-martial. One of the things that I would like to do ... is that we take the time to make sure that everyone is being treated fairly in the military.”
But Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris, the Air Force’s inspector general, disagreed, and said the Air Force’s data don’t show a disparity in punishments based on rank.
“We hold our officers, actually, to a higher standard of accountability,” Harris said.
Speier also noted that the Defense Department’s inspector general said in a report that misconduct allegations against senior officials increased by 13 percent between fiscal 2015 and 2017, from 710 to 803. The rate of substantiated allegations increased from 26 percent to 37 percent, she said, confirming allegations on offenses such as improper relationships, improper personnel actions, misuse of governmental resources, and travel violations.
Air Force Times has outstanding Freedom of Information Act requests with the service’s Office of Inspector General ― the first filed last June ― for reports on substantiated misconduct claims made against senior officials since 2016.
The Air Force last year reprimanded retired Gen. Arthur Lichte, the former head of Air Mobility Command, and stripped him of two stars after the Office of Special Investigations found he engaged in “inappropriate sexual acts with a subordinate” twice in 2007 while on active duty. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also withdrew his certification of satisfactory service
But the Air Force was unable to court-martial Lichte.
In her letter of reprimand, former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said that if the five-year statute of limitations had not passed, she felt Lichte’s “disgraceful” conduct “would be more appropriately addressed through the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”
The investigation began in August 2016, about four years after the statute of limitations expired.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.