WASHINGTON, March 12 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel began internal reviews of a sexual assault case and U.S. military commanders' power to overturn such convictions, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said on Tuesday.
"Sexual assault is a serious crime that has no place in the department and he will not tolerate it," Little said, "Any member of the military that is convicted of sexual assault -- no matter his rank or position -- must be held appropriately accountable."
Hagel has made it clear to military and civilian leaders that " eliminating sexual assault in the military is one of his top priorities," Little said.
Hagel ordered the Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley and Robert Taylor, the Defense Department's acting general counsel, to review the case against Air Force Lt. Colonel James Wilkerson and their report is due back to Hagel on March 20, Little said.
Hagel also ordered the acting general counsel to conduct a review of Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the article covering the actions of the convening authority. Hagel is asking Taylor to provide an assessment of whether changes should be made in Article 60.
U.S. service members must know that "they are protected from criminal assault by a system of laws that function promptly, fairly and justly," Little said.
Air Force Lt. Colonel James Wilkerson, a pilot in Italy base, was found guilty last year of aggravated sexual assault and was sentenced to one year in military prison and dismissal from the service.
Lt. General Craig Franklin, the 3rd Air Force commander, reviewed the finished case and sentence over a three week period, and used his convening authority for the court-martial under Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to dismiss the charges against Wilkerson.
Dismissing charges like this is rare, officials said, but not unheard-of. A commander is not required to give a reason for the decision, and the commander's decision is final, the American Forces Press reported.