Why people should ask Congress to pass S.967 – Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013

Back in June, 2011, I put up a letter I sent to Congresspeople about a bad military law and how it caused phony sexual assault cases to get too much attention, allowed potential real cases to get no attention and caused suicide of innocent people presumed guilty. Today I am going to add onto that more details because of bills before Congress that relate to what I wrote.

One bill that has been introduced in the Senate by one of my Senators, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand D-NY, called S.967 – Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013. A similar bill in the House is H.R.2016 – Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013. Both aim to change the military justice system so commanders do not have to handle all of it. There have been people such as top level leadership in the military and some Congresspeople who disagree and believe commanders should still handle military justice.

As a former military serviceman in the Army, I have at times talked to people about military subjects and noticed either they don’t know, or worse, don’t care about what goes on in it including how their justice system works. I have also noticed high level military leaders tend not to tell people what some aspects of military life are like for unknown reasons. These things convince me there is a serious gap in understanding between soldiers and civilians of military life and everything that goes along with it. I am going to apply a piece of advice I once got when transitioning out to civilian life, I will convert military life into civilian terms comparing it civilian life so it may be easier understood by others.

Civilian justice is known and considered to have faults but for the most part thought of as doing well a majority of the time. I am sure those who read this know how it works. Military justice, some may think it works like shown in media such as the film A Few Good Men. Problem is, this is not completely true. Some aspects of military justice are handled under a different system. The Judge position is occupied by the unit commander the ‘crime’ is assigned to, Company, Battalion, Brigade, Division, Corps. The Plaintiff might be another soldier or someone in the Chain of Command between the commander (Judge) and Defendant. The Defendant is the soldier whatever ‘crime’ is being accused of who has to represent himself. Now I will clarify the bigger problem.

In civilian justice, the positions of Judge, Prosecution and Defense Lawyer are usually occupied by people who have studied the law a lot including laws the average person does not know about. In military justice as I described above, the same positions are occupied by people with different levels of understanding of military regulations (laws) and, in my view, not to the same degree as a civilian lawyer/judge. Think of a civilian justice system where the three positions are occupied by average people instead of those who spent years studying and practicing law. Also, in the civilian justice system people can represent themselves but have the choice of getting a lawyer or being provided one for free. In the military, most crimes the Defendant has no choice but to represent themselves.

Next add in the branch (industry) performing the justice. I served in the Signal branch, similar to civilian telecom technicians and phone operators. So in Signal, the Judge is a Senior Telecom Manager, the Plaintiff a lower level Telecom Manager and the Defendant a Telecom Tech or lower level Manager. If it were the Transportation branch, the Judge is a Manager of Truck Drivers, the Plaintiff a lower level Manager and the Defendant and Driver or even lower level Manager. Now I am sure you see where this is going.

Add onto that the Military Police. The MPs have somewhat similar duties to a civilian police officer, however some ‘crimes’ are not investigated or looked at by MPs, instead they are looked into by the Chain of Command. Converting to civilian again, in Signal you have various levels of Telecom Managers doing some police duties, Transportation has Managers doing these same police duties and so on throughout the branches.

Does this sound like Justice? This is one of many reasons why soldiers have to spend time adjusting to military life when joining and then readjusting to civilian life when leaving. In addition, I spent 3 years working in a Company and 6 months at Battalion, from what I lived I saw people in the Chain of Command who wished they did not have to do this. They do their best to perform the duties assigned to them but they do not like being assigned to positions as judges, lawyers and police. At Battalion, I knew officers and non-commissioned officers who wished someone else handled these duties, probably people specialized in the law much like in civilian life. They would rather spend their time focused on the branch they are in be it Signal (Telecom), Transportation (Trucking) or some other one. They don’t admit such beliefs/feelings to higher level leadership due to the American military being under drawdowns so much over the past several decades, drawdown being the same as a civilian recession. This is from a similar thing that happens in a civilian recession, people will sometimes not speak out about problems due to fear of losing their jobs. It is wrong to repress that way but that is what has been happening and explains why higher level leadership does not see it as a problem. Despite what they claim, it is actually detrimental to morale, it does not benefit it.

This is also one of the areas that divides people in military and civilian life that I believe should be improved. I hope this clarifies a few things and possibly get some people to back the bills mentioned. Changing military justice in ways to make it more like civilian justice allows for members of the Chain of Command to focus more on the job field they joined, gives a better justice system to the entire military and helps bring both sides, military and civilian, closer together so they have less misunderstanding between them. In addition, it will hopefully reduce or better eliminate the sexual assaults/harassments and, though it is not mentioned in the news and should be, suicides caused by such wrongful laws as the one I wrote Congress and blogged about here. If you are an American and reading this, I cannot choose for you but would like the believe you will tell your Congresspeople to support the bills I mentioned at the beginning. There are other bills such as S.538 – A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to modify the authorities and responsibilities of convening authorities in taking actions on the findings and sentences of courts-martial. While commendable an effort was made, these bills make the Chain of Command keep in some ways doing what they have been doing and I like to think I explained why that should stop.

If you at least read this far, thanks for reading.

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