Area Coast Guard officer faces wide range of possibly harsh punishments

UPDATE: A U.S. Coast Guard panel found Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Richard M. Clark innocent of all charges with the exception of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. The information on a sentence was not immediately known.

(Note: As happens sometimes, I edited after a previous version was published accidentally. If you are confused, well, sorry.)

“It suffices to add “military” to a word for it to lose its meaning. Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.” Georges Clemenceau.

Whether area Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Richard M. Clark will feel that way in eventual proceedings remain to be seen.

The above quote was attributed to Clemenceau, who was twice elected as French Prime Minister during the first bloody 20 years of the 20th century. The total saying is perhaps more important than its latter sentence part, which came to “modern” usage during the Vietnam War.

The late journalist Robert Sherill penned a book named for that latter sentence of the French leader’s quote. I bought “Military Justice Is To Justice, As Military Music Is To Music” in a bargain book bin most likely in Mississippi during my first Navy assignment. The book explored a number of military justice cases which were widely seen as unjust if not abominable. It was a book I kept in mind as I worked in my second assignment which was a legal yeoman on a destroyer based in San Diego. It is a book I would recommend for any young person who is joining or has recently joined the armed forces.

I was what today would be seen as a “paralegal” in civilian terms. I only saw so-called “non-judicial punishments” which could land one in some hot water, but mostly the hearings which were conducted by a unit or ship commander is similar to misdemeanors in the non-military world. It would be some 30 years later before I saw a court martial. I was then a newspaper reporter and those accused were Army soldiers tried at Fort Hood, Texas. One military court was that of Spc. Charles Graner, who was allegedly the ringleader of abuses that took place at Abu Ghraid in Iraq.

Clark, now serving in Galveston, might indeed see hard time if convicted for the charges he faces. His sentence might possibly even eclipse the six and a half years of a 10-year sentence Graner served in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Certainly, any victims in the Clark case might hope so. But one never knows what a court martial panel, the military jury, will hand out.

The charges against Clark allegedly happened while he was stationed in Port Arthur, Texas, in my county and about 15 miles from where I live. The warrant officer faces:

  • Five counts of aggravated assault with a loaded weapon.
  • Three counts of assault and battery.
  • Two charges of sexual assault and aggravated sexual contact.
  • One count of DWI.
  • One count of obstruction of justice.
  • Four counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.

The specifications, as the above mentioned counts of an article, included in an updating of Article 120, Rape, in the “Uniformed Code of Military Justice.” The definitions of the article now incorporate more widely used terms in the civilian justice system such as aggravated assault. The areas of sexual assault are also broadened, or are more specific. This includes touching and what is known in the civilian world as “date rape.”

A particularly quaint definition of “sexual act” has also been broadened. The definition during my time read: “Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the offense.” Today, the definition of a sexual act is:

 (A) contact between the penis and the vulva or anus or mouth, and for purposes of this subparagraph contact involving the penis occurs upon penetration, however slight; or

 (B) the penetration, however slight, of the vulva or anus or mouth, of another by any part of the body or by any object, with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, or degrade any person or to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.

 It is definitely more graphic.
Clark’s case was referred after an Article 32, which is similar to a grand jury investigation. He faces a general court martial where punishment options for those offenses Clark alleged committed range from fines, bad conduct and dishonorable discharge, to hard labor in prison.
Defendants in a court martial can have an appointed military attorney as well as a civilian attorney at no cost to the government. And something to remember, as the Coast Guard release rightly points out:
 “Charges are accusations against the individual and the accused is presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by the military justice system.”