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Prosecuting Adultery in the Armed Forces


The high-profile scandals involving Generals David Petraeus and John Allen revolve around questions of infidelity. If either is proven to be an adulterer during their time in the military, they could face serious consequences. But why would their jobs be at risk over something many consider a personal issue?

If you are a banker and have an extramarital affair, you probably won't face criminal charges. But the same isn't true for service men and woman.

They live by a second set of rules, The Uniform Code of Military Justice, or UCMJ. It not only governs infractions like theft, but also moral issues like Adultery.

So why does the military need a second set of laws? Washington, D.C.-based Military Law expert Attorney Dennis Boyle explains.

"In order for the military to function as it does in times of war there has to be absolute trust among and between service members." Boyle adds. "And they have to have the support of the public and the country behind them. "

The uniform code has a wide range of infractions. But essentially, it governs anything that is "to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces" or "conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces."

However, Boyle says infractions like adultery are seldom punished.

"A violation of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, like adultery, can be handled administratively through non-judicial punishment or something of that nature, or it can be referred to a court-martial to be handled." But Boyle said,"Either way it can end a person's career, or it can result in pretty significant sanction."

Does that mean that UCMJ is more of an arbitrary set of rules or is it just that something as small as adultery people don't usually prosecute for that?

Boyle said, "I think that there probably is a lot of adultery, and if all adultery were prosecuted probably the military justice system wouldn't have time to do anything else," Boyle added. "I think it becomes an issue, and it becomes a legal problem, when it starts to affect the operations of a unit, you know, such as one could argue it is doing now with people in the military."

Pentagon Spokesman Todd Breasseale says the main reason for prosecuting infractions like adultery boils down to possible threats to national security.

"If they have set themselves up to potentially be blackmailed for a given thing, it doesn't matter what it is, then that is a potential weak spot when one is considered renewing their security clearance or granting it to begin with."

Breasseale says even though the armed forces have more than one legal code, military men and woman are also taught a higher moral obligation as soon as they step into boot camp.

"We fight and win our nation's wars and the nation looks to us to do so in a way that gets the job done quickly and gets the job done at a minimum of loss,"  Breasseale added. "And the best way that we have found to do that is to have people of the highest moral caliber to execute the orders that would put their sons and daughters of the nation in harm's way."

And their questionable moral fiber may be the reason why Gen. Petraeus is no longer head of the CIA, and John Allen was reconsidered as the commander of NATO.

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