Recently there has been an eruption of blog posts from opponents of the military justice reforms championed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Rep. Jackie Speier, and other federal legislators. Many of these are simply rehashes of things the same or other authors have argued in the past. As the Administration and Congress move from the still-unpublished recommendation of the Independent Review Commission appointed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to taking a definitive stand on the pending proposals, a few basic points need to be kept in focus:
First, the numbers of sexual assault in the armed forces have essentially not budged despite past legislative initiatives and assurances from the service chiefs.
Second, the acquittal rate in sex-offense courts-martial is sky-high. Sending unwinnable cases to trial is unfair to everyone and detracts from public confidence in the administration of justice.
Third, one ally after another has removed from commanders the power to decide who shall be prosecuted for serious crimes. They have not done so to drive down the number of sex offenses; rather, they did it out of regard for the need for independent and impartial decision making in the administration of justice in the armed forces. And, a number of these changes arose before the prevalence of sexual assaults became a public issue. Commanders are neither independent nor impartial.
Fourth, 21st century Americans in and out of uniform recognize that prosecution decisions for serious and oftentimes complex criminal matters (as opposed to minor disciplinary offenses) are best made by persons with legal training.
As we observe Memorial Day, all Americans should be grateful to our military personnel. It is not enough to mouth the words "Thank you for your service." We should show our appreciation by ensuring that they will have the benefit of a state-of-the-art legal system that reflects contemporary values and in which they and we all can have confidence.
Fair seas and following winds to all. Brenner Fissell and Phil Cave.
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