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Defeat for “the Pajama Police” Air Force Major Acquitted in Sodomy Trial BY ROBERT BRYCE’ 1\\14 ” ilitary justice” is all too often an oxy moron, akin to “jumbo shrimp” or “family vacation.” Consider the San Antonio court martial last week of Major Debra Meeks, charged with sodomy and conduct unbecoming an officer. On August 15, after a lengthy investigation, widespread scandalous publicity, and a brief trial, Meeks was acquitted on both charges. But there remains abundant evidence that Meeks should never have been put through the ordeal of an investigation and trial at all. Indeed, Meeks should have been a poster woman for Air Force recruiters. She enlisted in the Air Force in 1974, went to Reserve Officer Training School, got her college degree and worked her way up through the ranks. Throughout her military career, she had not been cited for any disciplinary infractions. Then, in 1994, an adult civilian named Pamela Dillard told the O Air Force that Meeks had threatened her with a gun. But the Air Force investigated and closed the case, saying the evidence was inconclusive. In April of 1995, Meeks, stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, was told by her commanding officer that no action would be taken against her. The Air Force approved her retirement plans, and Meeks was expecting to retire at the end of February, 1996. But unknown to Meeks, in February of 1995 the Air Force had decided to revive its investigation. In November, her retirement was canceled, and her superiors asked her to plead guilty to conduct unbecoming an officer, for allegedly threatening Dillard. Had she agreed, Meeks would have been dismissed from the Air Force her military pension and benefits. Meeks refused, and asked for a military jury trial. The Air Force responded by adding a charge of sodomy, based on another Dillard allegationthat she and Meeks had been lovers. Since 1993, the Pentagon has officially operated under President Clinton’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on sexual matters. Under they don’t make public their sexual preferences. Throughout her ordeal, Meeks herself clearly abided by the policy, refusing all comment on her sexual behavior or preferences. But that didn’t stop the Air Force from harassing her. A February 1995 memo, written by Major General Henry Hobgood to investigators at the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, indicates that Meeks’ superiors knew exactly what they were doing, and it wasn’t “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Hobgood ordered investigators to “expand the scope of the investigation” of Meeks to include allegations that “she has engaged in homosexual conduct.” Despite the military’s apparent violation of its own policies, it was Meeks who faced the serious consequences. If convicted, she could have received eight years in military prison, and the loss of her $1,800 per month military pension. Before the trial, Meeks said she wasn’t afraid, but was disappointed in some of her fellow officers. “I feel sorry for a couple of See “Police,” page 22 UNNATURAL ACTS While the Air Force vigorously pursued allegations of homosexuality against Major Debra Meeks, dozens of other members of the armed forces who have been involved in serious sex-related offenses have never seen the inside of a military courtroom. For instance: In 1991 at the Tailhook convention in Las Veias, eighty women, many of them officers, were fondled and assaulted by Naval and Marine pilots. After a lengthy investigation, only a handful of the officers involved were prosecuted, and none was convicted. Admiral Frank Kelso, who was suspected of tampering with the Pentagon’s investigation into the matter, was allowed to retire with a full pension and benefits. According to a lengthy investigative report published last October by the Dayton Daily News, in 1989 a female assistant to an Air Force surgeon was raped by the officer in her barracks. His punishment? The Air Force transferred the officer to another base, where seventeen of his female patients later complained of his “inappropriate touching.” The officer was allowed to resign from the Air Force with an honorable discharge and no criminal record. The Dayton Daily News also found that the Air Force allowed more than one of every nine people charged with sexual assaults or child molestation to resign and avoid being tried. Meeks was court-martialed under the sodomy statute in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, regulations which have governed all military personnel since 1951. As written, the statute mandates that any person who engages in “unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex” is guilty of “sodomy.” Lawrence Korb, former assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, describes the language as a bit broad. “If we read that article in the UCMJ literally, we wouldn’t , have too many people left in the force,” he said. “We’d probably have the chaplains and that would be it.” R.B. AUGUST 30, 1996 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17