The news media had a difficult time with the court martial of Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair. There were the contradictory accounts of Sinclair's actions and the sordid, carnal nature of the accusations against him. These difficulties were in addition to the usual misunderstandings about the military criminal justice system. The Uniform Code of Military Justice is not familiar to most civilians, and even crime/courts reporters for most news organizations don't know the UCMJ very well.
When Sinclair pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors to lesser offenses than the sexual assault and threats his lover had accused him of and received a sentence far lighter than he had faced in the original charges, many critics were outraged. But this knee-jerk reaction deserves a more knowledgeable and thoughtful response.
Prosecutors were willing to accept Sinclair's plea to lesser charges because evidence presented in preliminary hearings showed his accuser, the only prosecution witness, to be unreliable, untruthful, perhaps even malevolently vengeful. The accuser, a captain under Sinclair's command, admitted to carrying on a three-year affair with Sinclair and continuing the consensual affair even after she says he forced her into sex act and threatened to kill her family. Defense attorneys would have shredded her testimony if she were put on the stand.
So prosecutors had good reason to accept a plea to lesser charges. Sinclair pleaded to misconduct charges, of which he was certainly guilty. His accuser, if she had not received immunity, could have been found guilty of the same charges. Under the UCMJ, adultery is a criminal offense. Sinclair was guilty (more than once) of that charge, but his accuser was also guilty. Because of her immunity, she will not face that charge.
Sinclair will not go to prison, but he will be forced to retire, and he will almost certainly be reduced in rank — a punishment that could cost him close to $1 million in retirement pay. His promising Army career is in tatters. His life's work is wasted. A man who might have worn four stars, had he avoided sexual temptations, will leave the Army in disgrace. His accuser, presumably, can continue her Army career.
Sinclair's wife, who has found the strength to forgive him, blames the Army's frequent deployments to hostile areas for her husband's criminal errors. Young men and women in their sexual prime are torn from their spouses and sent on year-long missions to dangerous places where their desires have no legal outlet. They cannot check their libidos at the deployment gate. With the integration of female troops into regular Army/Navy/Air Force units, the temptation grows as the isolation lengthens.
This is an age-old problem. Read the more recent accounts World War II. These histories, shorn of their contemporaneous patriotic whitewashing, reveal the prostitution, rape, venereal diseases and skirt-chasing that followed American GIs through the war zones.
And imagine for a moment if civilian law made adultery a criminal offense and prosecutors aggressively investigated every rumor of an affair. The UCMJ holds military personnel to a higher standard, but it's one too few can meet under the circumstances of repeated isolated deployments and plentiful temptations.