The Air Force is to be court-martialled for the first time in its 74-year history after a decorated two-star leader allegedly sexually assaulted a civilian woman.
Major General William Cooley, a father of three with a career spanning more than 20 years in the Air Force, was charged with forcibly kissing and touching the woman on August 12, 2018, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
A court-martial is the military’s highest court that tries conscripts for the most serious crimes, and the punishment for each offense is described in the “Courts-martial Handbook”.
It is a military protocol for active duty members charged with crimes to stand trial in military tribunals rather than civil courts.
Air Force Material Command Commander General Arnold Bunch, who was the General Court-Martial Convening Authority in this case, said in a statement that had a “ comprehensive overview ” of all the evidence and came to this decision.
“I notified Major General Cooley of my decision to court-martial his case,” Bunch said. “I can assure you this was not a light decision, but I think it was the right one.”
Air Force Major General William Cooley, a decorated officer with more than 20 years in the military, becomes the first general to be court-martialed in the military’s 74-year history.
Major General Cooley was given seven large accommodations for his military service.
Cooley’s attorney, Daniel Conway, said, “We look forward to proving his innocence in the alleged victim’s own words.”
The General of the Air Force was awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Legion of Merit, a Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Joint Service Achievement Medal and Air Force Achievement Medal.
He joined the Air Force from the ROTC in 1988 as a second lieutenant and entered active duty in January 1990 after receiving a master’s degree from the University of New Mexico.
Cooley climbed the ranks until the Air Force promoted him to Major General in July 2018.
Despite its long, prestigious career, victims’ advocates like Protect Our Defenders consider this historic move a great victory because it shows that no one is above the law.
Retired Air Force Colonel Don Christensen, chairman of Protect Our Defenders advocacy group, who put the victim in touch with her pro bono attorney, put Wednesday’s announcement into perspective.
“The total number of Air Force sexual assault prosecutions is 4 percent, so that means 96 percent of the time these cases don’t even go to court,” he said. “Then add that he’s a general.”
But the Air Force’s decision “tells me there is a strong case here,” Christenson said Military.com.
Christenson told Military.com that the Air Force’s decision “tells me there is a strong case here.”
There is a possibility that the trial will never take place if he offers a plea deal in exchange for a maximum on his sentence or offers to retire, and it will be accepted by the judge, Christensen said.
But this is going to be “ unique, ” he said, and it will likely take a while for the lawsuit to go to trial, as the Air Force must find eight senior officers above Cooley who will be fair and impartial to serve on the jury, Christensen said.
He estimates that there are only about 100 more senior air force officers.
The charge of sexual assault was filed against Cooley in November 2020, and an Article 32 hearing was held on February 8, 2021, similar to a civil grand jury.
This is the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Cooley was relieved of command of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio in January 2020.
The trial of a court-martial is similar to a civil criminal trial, but the main difference is the basis that guides the trials.
Military criminal proceedings are governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which is the basis of military law in the United States, while civil trials use constitutional rights and laws.
As in civil criminal proceedings, Cooley is presumed innocent until proven guilty.