Military needs to rethink ‘justice’

It’s bad enough that the Pentagon estimates that the amount of assaults has increased a third since 2010. The numbers jumped from 19,300 women to roughly 26,000, but on an even scarier note, CNN reported: “If you serve in the U.S. military and you rape or sexually assault a fellow service member, chances are you won’t be punished. In fact, you have an estimated 86.5 percent chance of keeping your crime a secret and a 92 percent chance of avoiding a court-martial.”

Those statistics cracked on May 7, when the Senate discussed this issue after the leading naval officer in sex-based offenses allegedly groped a woman he did not know. He was arrested and is facing possible charges and dishonorable discharge. Now, one week after, news breaks that another officer, Sgt. 1st Class Gregory McQueen, located at Fort Hood, has charges pending for another alleged sexual assault and is in the process of being accused of running a prostitution ring. Like before, he was in a key role to prevent sexual assault, assigned as an equal opportunity adviser and coordinator of a sexual harassment-assault prevention program at III Corps headquarters at Fort Hood when the allegations arose.

One of the reasons that so many people get away with these crimes is the military’s independent judicial system that is very much selective and completely different than our own. When someone enlists to the military, they are submitting themselves to a very different system of justice.

While the main purpose of the U.S. justice system is to dispense “justice,” that is not the primary reason for the creation of a separate judicial system for America’s Armed Forces. The main purpose of the military’s own system of justice is to give the military commander the necessary tools to enforce order, civility and discipline.

For example, that’s the reason it’s not considered a crime to be late for work at your job as an American citizen, but it is a crime to be late for work in the military. The military commander can use many methods to enforce order, civility and discipline within the unit — from mild administrative punishments such as formal or informal counseling, to full-blown court martials, in which a person can be sentenced to hard labor, or even executed, though there have not been any executions since 1961.

There is a bill to be introduced next month that seeks to give women confidence that they can receive justice by repairing a key structural flaw in the military’s handling of assault cases, due to the military’s controversial government system. As things stand, senior officers with no legal training but plenty of conflicts of interest can decide whether court-martial charges can be brought against lower ranked officers and whether to throw out a verdict once it is rendered. In one recent case, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, an Air Force commander, dismissed, without explanation, the aggravated sexual assault conviction of an Air Force fighter pilot, Lt. James Wilkerson, permitting Colonel Wilkerson’s reinstatement.

There are many things that can be solved through congress and the president. One is to crack down hard on drinking and drugs. The military’s attitude toward these “bad boy” behaviors is the true “don’t ask, don’t tell” issue among the ranks. Many recent sexual assault scandals, including the arrest just days ago of the lieutenant who heads the Air Force’s unit on sexual-assault prevention that I mentioned earlier have involved alcohol abuse.

Among the reforms, the Pentagon is considering a change that would give commanders limitless discretion to excuse “lesser included” offenses, such as excessive drinking that disrupts military order. Instead of winking at this behavior, the military should not tolerate excessive drinking or drug abuse; it is no secret that drinking and drug use alter people’s judgements. Benefits of such a change would include a decrease in sexual assaults.

With all the recent awareness of this pervasive problem, it’s time to act. The women in the armed forces that stand up for us in defending our country need us to stand up for improving their safety in their ranks and for bringing an end to the horrible injustice that has been perpetrated against them.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.