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Historic court-martial of former AFRL commander set to start Monday at WPAFB

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, gate. (U.S. Air Force/Released)

The first court-martial of a general officer in the history of the Air Force is scheduled to begin Monday at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Ex-Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) commander Maj. Gen. William Cooley is charged under Article 120, which concerns sexual assault. A court-martial is a legal proceeding analogous to a civilian trial.

The two-star general is charged with kissing and touching a woman without her consent in Albuquerque, N.M., in August 2018, according to the Air Force charge.

Cooley denies the allegations. A military attorney for Cooley told the Dayton Daily News last year there was no unwanted touching and the case should not go to trial.

An Article 32 preliminary hearing was convened at Wright-Patterson last February in which a senior military judge reviewed the charge against Cooley.

After reviewing that judge’s assessment, Gen. Arnold Bunch, commander of Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), decided last April that the case will proceed to court-martial.

“After a comprehensive review of all of the evidence from the investigation and the Article 32 preliminary hearing, I’ve informed Maj. Gen. Cooley of my decision to move his case to general court-martial,” Bunch said last year. “I can assure you this was not a decision made lightly, but I believe it was the right decision.”

Both AFRL and AFMC are headquartered at Wright-Patterson.

A spokesman for AFMC declined an interview on the subject but confirmed that the general court-martial convening authority has selected court members (jurors) from a list of eligible general officers.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice dictates jurors must be a higher grade or at an equivalent grade with an earlier date of rank than the accused. They have been notified in advance of the proceedings to enable ample time to clear their schedules to serve as members, a spokesman said.

Under the UCMJ, the accused also has the right to elect trial by military judge alone.

Since his removal from command, Cooley has served as special assistant to Bunch, with duties focused on advancing the command’s digital campaign, the Air Force has said.

Don Christensen, a former chief prosecutor for the Air Force and the president of the group Protect Our Defenders, told the Dayton Daily News in 2020 that if the Cooley case went to court-martial, he will be the first general officer in Air Force history to face such a proceeding.

“An Air Force general has never been court-martialed,” Christensen said at the time. “It’s a big deal that they’re doing this.”

“What it tells me is that the investigation has shown that the evidence is really strong, that he committed this offense,” he added.

Last month, President Biden signed into law provisions of the “I Am Vanessa Guillén Act,” which were included in the $770 billion National Defense Authorization Act.

Under the law, which went into effect on Jan. 1, military commanders will no longer be involved in military sexual harassment or sexual assault investigations. The decision to prosecute sexual assault and harassment will be made outside service members’ chain of command.

The law was named for a murdered U.S. Army soldier.


(c) 2022 the Journal-News

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