When Justice is No Longer Blind
According to the engraved words found above the door to the entrance of the Supreme Court, “Equal Justice Under the Law” is signified by the well-known statue of the Blindfolded Lady Justice who holds a set of scales. She is blindfolded because we are to believe that justice does not take notice of a person’s status, economic well-being, ethnicity, religion, gender, or “rank”, etc. Justice only hears the facts of a case and then determines the outcome of the case based on a fair and impartial hearing of those facts. Unfortunately, there is one area of our country where this is never the case.
Recently, an Air Force general has come under fire for his decision to overturn a rape conviction of a Lieutenant Colonel and Air Force Pilot, despite a jury of three Colonels having heard the evidence and found the pilot guilty of raping a female in his home. Then, in a second case of rape the same general decided unilaterally that there was no point in even hearing evidence against an alleged rapist. A female staff sergeant reported being raped by a subordinate after a night of drinking and dancing. Lt. General Craig Franklin, the general in question, felt no investigation was warranted but he is far from unusual.
While stationed at Osan Air Base, in South Korea in 2008, I attended a required briefing for spouses given by the base commander, an Air Force Colonel. This Colonel gave what I contend was the most offensive briefing I have ever had the misfortune to attend. During the course of his hour long rant he made comments that included inappropriate language and downright outrageous policies. One example was his position that, “I tell female airmen that if you have a male in your room after midnight that equals consent to have sex in my book.” He then went on to say that if a female airmen is raped and the rapist is caught he can look forward to being, “ass raped in prison”.
These are the same type of leaders who are allowed to make unilateral decisions on guilt or innocence and are allowed to overturn cases previously decided by a jury. If this seems outrageous to you and in defiance of all that our justice system should stand for, you are not alone. However, there seems to be questions about whether the actions of this general or others like him are really inappropriate. The Stars and Stripes, a newspaper which covers military news, stated, “Exactly why Air Force Chief of Staff Marc Welsh and then-Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning removed it for a second look—a most unusual event—is unclear”.
How they could wonder why such cases were removed for a second look is ridiculous and absurd. The real question should not be why they are removing this one case but why they are not taking steps to remove all cases from the hands of these obviously inept commanders. Why have they not placed these cases in the hands of a civilian legal system and removed it from a military system that is rife with bias and where justice is anything but blind?
Some good news did come out of the case with Lt. General Craig Franklin, thanks to pressure from Congress: the power to overturn jury cases has been taken away from commanders. This same pressure lead to the case Lt. General Franklin completely ignored, being reinvestigated by Maj. Gen. Sharon Dunbar and found to be sufficient to warrant charges against the airman. The new Article 32 hearing will be held in January 2014.
Still, more changes need to be made to the military legal system, especially with regards to sexual assault. According to a former CID (Criminal Investigation Command) agent and a rape victim herself, Myla Haider, the handling of rape cases in the military is poor. Haider alleged that while a CID investigator she witnessed “tag teams” of investigators who took hours to “get the truth” out of rape victims which often resulted in the victims becoming so distraught they gave up making the charges.
According to the latest number from the Pentagon, 1108 rape allegations were brought; of those only 575 were investigated, and of those a mere 95 resulted in actual Court Martials. This does not mean all 95 resulted in convictions, only that they made it to court. This despite the Department of Defense concluding that an estimated 19,000 cases of sexual assault occur annually in the US military. This seems about right given the atmosphere I found in 2008 with the Air Force Colonel who was the commander at Osan AB. Why would a female airman bring charges of rape when her commanding officer has told her that if it occurred after midnight, it cannot be rape because just like Cinderella’s carriage turned to a pumpkin…rape victims or female airmen turn to willing sex partners at the stroke of midnight?
So, how do we correct these major flaws in the military justice system? Let’s consider what qualifies a person to become a judge in a civilian court of law. First, a four year degree is required, second acceptance to law school & subsequent graduation, third passing the American Bar exam, and finally being selected after years of work as a lawyer, to a judgeship. Now, how about in the military? You still need a four year degree but all that legal training and experience is just nonsense. Take a look at Lt. Gen. Franklins background to see how qualified he was to overturn a jury’s decision of rape.
Franklin holds a 1981 BS degree from the Air Force Academy in Civil Engineering, a Masters from Embry-Riddle in Aero-nautical science and a second Masters in national resource strategy from the Armed Forces College. Clearly, he is an intelligent man but is he qualified to be a judge in a court of law? The answer, as far as our civilian courts are concerned, is patently NO!
So, why do we have such lax requirements for judges in the military? That answer would take a long time to explain. What is more important, is that this clear deficiency and imbalance in justice be corrected. Having a friend who is in command look out for your career, or a fellow pilot or officer “watching your 6” is not what we should see in the decisions made by military commanders. Yet, that is exactly what the military court of law perpetuates by allowing commanders to “see” the victims and the defendants according to their rank, their gender, and their future military service.
Commanders may think, “Do I throw away millions of dollars’ worth of training spent on this LTC Pilot just because he raped some 19-year-old girl?” I shiver to think how many times such thoughts have entered into the equation of a commander’s decision. Lady Justice is not only stripped of her blindfold in the military, frankly she is no longer considered a lady once the clock strikes midnight!