Britain’s Prince Harry has a number of groups interested in how he conducts his private life, not the least of which is his employer, the British Army.
A spokesman for the United Kingdom’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday that the ministry wouldn’t comment on pictures showing Harry – third in line to the British throne and an Army captain who has served in Afghanistan – naked while on vacation in Las Vegas.
He may be relieved that the incident is being portrayed in some circles as an unfortunate breach of his trust.
Although there’s no British military reaction, the incident did get us to wondering how much trouble a potentially embarrassing – even if not illegal – photo or video would present for a U.S. service member.
Depending on the specifics, the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice could pose a number of difficulties for Americans in uniform, said Victor Hansen, a retired Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps officer and a professor at New England School of Law, Boston.
For officers, the code’s Article 133 allows military trial and punishment for “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.” For enlisted members, Article 134 allows the same action for conduct prejudicial to “good order and discipline in the armed forces” and “conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.”
Commanders have wide discretion, and oftentimes cases aren’t referred to courts-martial. Commanders often instead give reprimands or administrative sanctions, Hansen said.
A wide variety of cases - including accusations of dishonesty, officers gambling with enlisted soldiers, writing bounced checks - have been prosecuted. And even if an officer’s conduct is just being naked in a photo or video, commanders could deem the behavior to be unbecoming an officer or conclude the behavior “causes someone to question that officer’s fitness” for leadership. That could lead to a court-martial, Hansen said.
“There’s this phrase that’s repeated often in the military: ‘You’re a soldier 24 hours a day, seven days a week.’ With respect to officers in particular, given the higher expectations that are on them, the reality is that you’re kind of on notice through this statute,” Hansen said. “You have to be circumspect in your behavior at all times. If you’re not and someone catches you in a down moment, that can have significant consequences.”
Maximum punishment for conviction under Article 133 is dismissal from service and incarceration. Regardless of sentence, the practical reality for guilty officers is that his or career is over, Hansen said.
Outside of Articles 133 and 134, service members also have to abide by rules prohibiting sexual activity in public or in the presence of a third party, Hansen said. Whether that applies to naked photos depends on a commander’s interpretation of the event, Hansen said.
Hansen didn’t recall specific cases involving prosecution for being in naked images, outside of one involving a service member who allegedly acted in a pornographic movie.
As for Prince Harry, there was little to suggest that his incident would cause much of a lasting stir in his country, Army or otherwise.
“Most people in Britain that I’ve spoken to think it’s hilarious. The palace will pretend to be outraged. And I suspect that he will be asked to perform his new expert sport of strip billiards at the Christmas party for the royal family,” Piers Morgan, host of CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight” and a former British newspaper editor, said Wednesday.