MAY 14, 1997
A love affair has led to a court martial for a promising female aviator. The career of U.S. Air Force Lt. Kelly Flinn has been grounded by charges of adultery and other behavior unbecoming to an officer. Elizabeth Farnsworth leads a discussion on this case and whether the military's punishment for adultery fits the crime.
JIM LEHRER: Allegations of adultery and other misconduct between the sexes in the U.S. Air Force is our next story. Kwame Holman begins our coverage with a report on the case that has drawn the most attention.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
April 30, 1997:
A discussion of mixed-gender training in the military.
April 29, 1997:
Staff Sgt. Simpson is convicted of raping trainees while at the Army's Arberdeen Proving Ground.
March 6, 1997:
Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) discusses the state of the military investigation into the sexual misconduct.
February 4, 1997:
Senators Chuck Robb (D-VA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) discuss whether the military is doing what it can to protect the women who protect our country.
April 4, 1996:
A NewsHour discussion of Women in the Military.
Browse the Online NewsHour's military coverage.
U.S. Air Force Web site on Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policies
KWAME HOLMAN: In this 1995 promotional film, the Air Force proudly featured Lt. Kelly Flinn. As the service's first female B-52 pilot she was considered a rising star and a solid return on the more than one million dollars spent training her.
LT. KELLY FLINN, U.S. Air Force: I'm young, I've reached one of the major goals in my life, which was to be a pilot in the Air Force, and I've got the whole future ahead of me.
KWAME HOLMAN: Flinn's superiors deemed her "most distinguished" among her Air Force Academy graduating glass in 1993. And last year, her performance report read "outstanding officer and aviator . . . head and shoulders above her peers."
Today, the Air Force no longer touts Flinn's prowess as a bomber pilot. Instead, the 26-year-old, unmarried lieutenant faces court martial on May 20th on military charges of adultery. Her punishment could be dishonorable discharge from the Air Force and up to nine and a half years in prison. Her crime, according to Flinn, was falling in love with the wrong man. Flinn was stationed at Minot air Force Base in Minot, North Dakota, a small town where the social life centers on the base. There she met Marc Zigo, a civilian who coached soccer on the base. Zigo was married to an enlisted woman at Minot but Flinn says he lied to her, saying he was separated from his wife and headed for divorce. Flinn kept the affair secret, and told Air Force investigators the two were just friends. In addition to adultery, the Air Force has charged Flinn with fraternization--she had a prior relationship with an enlisted man--lying to Air Force investigators, disobeying an order to stay away from Marc Zigo, and conduct unbecoming an officer.
Flinn's case has drawn national attention. It is one of dozens of adultery cases the Air Force has pursued in recent years. The number of Air Force courts martial for adultery rose from 20 in 1986 to 67 last year. Of the 67, seven or 10.5 percent were brought against females. Women comprise 17 percent of the active duty Air Force. Most adultery prosecutions have resulted in guilty verdicts. The different branches of the military have different rules on exactly what sexual misconduct is. Last month, the Pentagon formed a panel of civilians and representatives of each service to review the regulations on so-called fraternization, close personal relationships between superiors and those of junior rank. The panel is expected to issue recommendations this summer.
JIM LEHRER: Elizabeth Farnsworth takes up the Kelley Flinn case from there.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We get two views now on Lt. Flinn's case. John Cornell was an Air Force lawyer in the mid 1980's. He's now senior assistant general counsel for the federal government's General Services Administration. Frank Spinner is a former chief appellate defense counsel in the Air Force. He's now in private practice in Virginia and is defending Lt. Flinn. He joins us from Minot, North Dakota. The Air Force was asked to participate in this discussion but declined. Mr. Spinner, we just heard the charges. Lt. Flinn will be charged with adultery, fraternization, disobeying an order, making a false statement, and conduct unbecoming an officer. Did she do those things?
FRANK SPINNER, Kelly Flinn Defense Attorney: (Minot, North Dakota) No, she did not.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What is your defense in it?
FRANK SPINNER: Well, first of all, we're challenging the legality of the Air Force regulation on unprofessional relationships. We also challenge in the order that was given by her command, Lt. Col. LePlante, to basically terminate any relationship with Marc Zigo. We have not decided exactly how we intend to handle the other specification in terms of what her pleas will be, although Kelly has admitted that she had a sexual relationship with both Airman Thompson and Marc Zigo. But there are a number of elements of the offenses that have to be looked at individually.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: On December 13th, her commander read Lt. Flinn her rights and gave her a written order commanding her not to see Marc Zigo, who's the soccer coach that she had the affair with, the man who was married but told her that he wasn't married. Why did she disobey that order?
FRANK SPINNER: Well, she really had not choice. What Col. LePlante did not recognize --what the commander did not recognize is that Marc Zigo was already living with her. And he basically told Kelly not to communicate with Marc, either directly or through another third party. So he did not have the correct factual basis before he gave the order. So it essentially was an order that was impossible to obey.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Could you just explain, how are you questioning the legality of that order, on that basis, or is there another legal basis?
FRANK SPINNER: Well, it has to be seen as in the nature of a domestic relations order, and as the commander was concerned about the marital relationship between Marc Zigo and his wife, Gail. The problem was Gail had already filed for divorce. She had kicked him out of the house. He had no place to go. He basically came to Kelly and said, can you give me a room?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Mr. Cornell, why should the Air Force have any right to get involved in personal affairs like this? Why should they care if Lt. Flinn has an affair with somebody whose wife has kicked him out?
JOHN CORNELL, Former Air Force Lawyer: Until you're divorced, you're still married--real, simple fact. And there's always a potential for reconciliation. We're having an officer here who's carrying on with the civilian spouse of another military member. The Air Force base is a very small community. I don't know about Minot. I expect it's about three or four thousand people all told. And you have to work together. In many instances, you have to work together, live together very close proximity, work very strange hours. The Air Force has a definite interest in dealing with everything that goes into the work mix. Additionally, there is the issue that the uniform code of military justice is a federal statute passed by Congress defining adultery to be a crime.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And in this case, do you think that if Lt. Flinn had been charged with adultery alone and not with lying and not with refusing an order, it would have been different or no? Would that have been just as important a crime? It is a federal crime under this. Adultery becomes a federal crime under this, right?
JOHN CORNELL: My experience from my time on active duty is that very rarely would someone be prosecuted for adultery alone. Usually you'd have other charges added on top of that, and if you've got someone who's fallen off the straight and narrow and they talk to their boss and their boss says, you've got to stop doing this and they say, yeah, I made a mistake, I'm going to pull out of this, it usually wouldn't go this far. I wouldn't say in every occasion, but usually it wouldn't go this far, and you wouldn't be seeing what you have today. But that's not what we have.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: No. Just a minute. Mr. Spinner, respond to that, and also tell me why you think this is happening. There are clearly more--we saw the figures in Kwame's introductory piece--there are more cases of adultery--of adultery being brought in the Air Force. Why--after you respond to what Mr. Cornell just said.
FRANK SPINNER: All right. First of all, we wouldn't be here if Marc Zigo had never come into Kelly Flinn's life. He is basically like a predator, and--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This is the man who lied to her who was actually kind of a con artist? He lied about everything?
FRANK SPINNER: Exactly. And she made the mistake of falling in love with him and believing him. And now the Air Force is going after her and not Marc Zigo. So the concerns expressed by Mr. Cornell are just not applicable in this case. Additionally, there was an occasion where she tried to go to her commander and he refused to talk to her and said basically I may be the hammer in this case. So when he did confront her and give her the order, he advised her of her rights. So that builds a barrier to communication, and I think when you look at the fact of this case, you can distinguish from the kinds of situations that Mr. Cornell is talking about.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But, Mr. Spinner, what about the argument that somebody who's flying the airplanes that carry nuclear weapons and who can't distinguish a con artist from a nice guy shouldn't be carrying those nuclear weapons? That's an argument some people have made.
FRANK SPINNER: Well, I have heard of all kinds of leading figures in our country who have fallen to con artists, so I don't think Kelly Flinn is the first person to have fallen into the trap of a con artist, especially a person of her caliber and skill. Recognize too though that she's just only a recent graduate of the Air Force Academy. She's only a first lieutenant, after all.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why do you think--we have other cases like this--why do you think that there are more cases being brought right now?
FRANK SPINNER: I really don't understand that. I wish the Air Force was here to answer that question because it seems to me the Air Force is turning back the clock. They fail to recognize that officers in the Air Force are just like civilians outside the Air Force. They're human; they fall into human error, subject to temptation. Adultery is perhaps the oldest sin in the Bible, and in that sense, it's been common to mankind for untold centuries. I don't think Air Force officers are immune to the temptations of adultery.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about that? Can the military maintain sexual rules that are--that seem to be at odds with wider society?
FRANK SPINNER: Well, they appear to--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I'm sorry. I'm asking Mr. Cornell this.
JOHN CORNELL: The Air Force has a mission to accomplish, and when you voluntarily come into the Air Force, you come into it on their terms. And you're not free to do everything you're free to do when you're a civilian. If you decide when you're a civilian that, gee, I hate my job, I'm just not going in today, you can do that. I can do that. You can do that, Mr. Spinner can do that. You can't do that in the military. It's an entirely different package. In a lot of ways, for the greater good you give up a lot of the liberties that civilians enjoy, and that's part of what military service entails. I enjoyed being in the military. I enjoy being out of the military.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In your experience, though, was there a fairly wide range of experiences in the Air Force where in some cases an officer would get prosecuted for this and in other cases not? There certainly have been some evidence about that in the articles that I've read.
JOHN CORNELL: I was in the strategic air command for all four years, which is the predecessor command to the portion of the air combat--I think it's air combat command they call it now. The air combat command, with its predecessor, the strategic air command, was very puritanical, and people would get hammered for offenses in the strategic air command that would get dealt with administratively or other manners in other branches of the Air Force. So a lot of it depends upon the command culture and a lot of those culture and leadership intangibles that go into the decision making that is military justice.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Spinner, are you arguing that the Air Force shouldn't prosecute people for adultery, or are you just arguing in this case she shouldn't; that Lt. Flinn shouldn't be prosecuted?
FRANK SPINNER: No. I'm arguing the Air Force in general is over-prosecuting its adultery cases. I've defended a number of outstanding Air Force officers over the last few years who in their zeal to serve the Air Force fell into problems in their personal lives, including a heart surgeon, only a couple of years ago at Kiesler Air Force Base. My sense is that they are prosecuting these cases unnecessarily, but, in fact, the prosecution of these cases is leading to an adverse impact on morale and discipline. I've talked to captains and lieutenants about getting out of the Air Force because of what they see in these types of Air Force prosecutions. The fact remains the Air Force is not consistently prosecuting this case, these types of cases, and it's time for the Air Force to realize that and to--and for the taxpayers to see how the tax dollars are being used in the military justice system.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So do you recommend some kind of reforms which would actually change the military code of justice?
FRANK SPINNER: I don't think any reforms are necessary. I think they just need to start being just in the military justice system. There are lesser forms of disciplinary action. Their own Air Force regulation that governs unprofessional relationships says that you should attempt counseling first, lesser forms of disciplinary action before going to court martial. They didn't do that in this case.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about that?
JOHN CORNELL: Lt. Flinn had a great opportunity. She had a golden career. The Air Force paid for her education, gave her a bachelor's degree through the Academy. The Air Force gave her a world class graduate education of flying airplanes, combat training for flying the B-52, gave her a commission, and gave her the wings that so many people want to have and so few people get. And if someone did all that for you and then just said go to work, do the job, and stay out of trouble because you know what the rules are, you'd be crushed if you let someone down who did all that for you. And I don't understand all the hubbub about this case.
For four years the Air Force Academy taught Lt. Flinn what it meant to be a leader. And during those four years they discussed Tailhook; they discussed fraternization; they discussed the uniform code of military justice. The Air Force Academy has a huge law department and those lawyers are teaching them the law. If she's walking out of there saying I'm young, I'm inexperienced, I didn't know what was going on, I, for one, would fall over laughing because that's ridiculous. She's had dozens, if not hundreds, of hours of instruction on all of the subject matter that's at issue here. When the secretary of the Air Force, a woman, went to go fly on a B-52, she went to go fly on Kelly Flinn's B-52. She had a golden career, and she tossed it away because she couldn't follow the rules.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Spinner, we just have about 30 seconds.
FRANK SPINNER: Okay. First of all, I taught at the Air Force Academy. I was an associate professor law and director of the law for commanders. They no longer teach cadets a lot of these things that Mr. Cornell is talking about. He obviously does not know what goes on at the Air Force Academy. The fact of the matter is the Air Force has had adultery occur in its ranks for decades, and male pilots have not been prosecuted for it. It's only with the increased number of women, not only in the Air Force but in the flying community, that we've seen the increased prosecutions for adultery. I think it's time to ask a question where there's a connection in that relationship.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Well, thank you both very much for being with us.