He meant well. Back in May, President Obama said he had no more patience with the rising number of sexual assault cases in the military, and he declared that perpetrators should be “prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged." The problem, as the New York Times explains, is that Obama also happens to be commander in chief, and his words have given defense attorneys a potential way to get their clients off the hook.
In a dozen assault cases so far, defense lawyers or judges have declared that Obama's words amount to "unlawful command influence"—essentially, that he, as commander, is ordering the specific outcome of a court-martial and is thus tainting the outcome. The White House says that's ridiculous, that Obama wasn't "trying to be prescriptive." But “when the commander in chief says they will be dishonorably discharged, that’s a pretty specific message," says a legal expert. "Every military defense counsel will make a motion about this.” Whether that results in scores of cases being dismissed remains unclear—other experts quoted say that's a long shot—but it will at the very least complicate almost every such trial in the near future, says the Times. (Read more President Obama stories.)