American military justice evolved during the past century to closely resemble proceedings in a federal courtroom, with prosecution, penitentiary standards, witness testimony and trial by jury before a trained judge. There is one glaring exception. The decision on whether charges should be brought, who sits on the jury and whether a conviction or punishment can stand is controlled buy a high-ranking officer who is the defendant’s superior. The officer is neither a lawyer or a judge, although he or she receives written advice from a military attorney.
Britain, Canada and other countries have moved away from this principle of commanding officer’s authority, but it lives on in the American military’s Uniform Code of Military Justice created by Congress. The military has proven that it is incapable of doing the job. Commanders reduce as many as a third of sexual abuse punishments. A commander’s authority is not entirely misplaced, but it can be abused. What commander wants his record to reflect this type of abuse on his watch?
Having the greatest military in the world, asking everything of them, to include dying for their country, the military shouldn’t be asked to subject itself to sexual assault and rape. If we allow the military to report outside the chain of command, allow that decision-making to be made by a prosecutor, not the commanding officer, justice will prevail more often.
Sadly, the sexual abuse of military women is happening at an alarming rate. Something needs to be done now, not later.
On Saturday, a book titled “WOMEN UNDER FIRE: Abuse in the Military,” was released. It is authored by Sarah L. Blum, a decorated Vietnam surgical nurse who served with the 25th Infantry Division in 1967 at the height of the war, saving lives at the 12th Evacuation Hospital located in Cu Chi, South Vietnam.