AF Officer Investigated for Objecting to Military Sex Assault Policy

Capt. Maribel Jarzabek
Capt. Maribel Jarzabek

A retiring Air Force officer and lawyer who publicly urged passage of legislation to change how the military adjudicates sexual assault crimes was investigated and reprimanded for doing so, according to a news report.

Capt. Maribel Jarzabek, 34, who is stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany and whose last day in the service is Wednesday, represented victims of sexual assault as part of a new program, according to an article by Craig Whitlock in The Washington Post. In recent weeks, she took to Facebook to vent her frustrations over the need for additional reform.

"Changes are needed, and it's time that the public knew about the military's true dirty little secrets!" she wrote in a Dec. 2 post on the Facebook page of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. The Democrat from New York has proposed overhauling military sex assault policy in part by giving military lawyers the authority to prosecute such crimes rather than commanders.

Jarzabek's comments, which were "liked" by more than 100 other Facebook users, caught the attention of higher-ups and she was placed under criminal investigation for wrongfully advocating "a partisan political cause" and publicly expressing opinions that could undermine public confidence in the service, according to the article.

While she was merely scolded and warned not to do it again, Jarzabek has returned to Facebook, where she encouraged others to share the story and pledged to write an op-ed about the issue. She also pointed out that she was disciplined for speaking out in favor of Gillibrand's legislation – yet her male colleagues weren't for speaking out against it.

"Apparently, other AF lawyers are above the law, but I'm not, as I did not toe the company line," she wrote.

Jarzabek included a link to a Politico story about a letter circulated by Lt. Gen. Richard Harding, the service's judge advocate general, and now-Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Rockwell, in which they urge fellow military lawyers to oppose Gillibrand's efforts to remove the command chain from major criminal prosecutions. Yet the service "found no legal problems" with the officers' remarks, Politico reported.

"There is a double-standard in that my 2-star General (and former Commander) and another SVC get to speak out in uniform in their official positions against Sen Gillibrand's bill, yet, I can't," Jarzabek wrote on Facebook. "They don't get in trouble, but I do. How is that fair if they say that is against the rules? Then they should have been punished as well, just as I did."

A spokesperson for Gillibrand's office wasn't immediately available for comment. Air Force officials have declined to discuss Jarzabek's case.

Jarzabek played a role in the case that led to the early retirement of Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, the former commander of the 3rd Air Force at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, who in 2013 overturned a sexual assault conviction of a fellow officer and fighter pilot, Lt. Col. James Wilkerson III. The decision became a flashpoint of criticism over the military's handling of sexual assaults.

"I just hope that President Obama and SECDEF will hear this, as changes do need to be made," Jarzabek wrote, referring to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. "The SVC program is not the savior of military justice...there is only so much we can do for victims, and then if we do zealously advocate, we get retaliated against and told we are ‘too victim-centered.'

"This job has been the hardest thing I have ever done," she added. "I have never encountered so much resistance. I hope that Obama and SECDEF will listen to what I have to say in the letters that I will write them."

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com

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