Is the military capable of maintaining a fair and ethical justice system?
In a frantic attempt to retain their authority within the armed forces court systems, military leaders have touted repeated claims of their dedication to eradicating sexual assault from their ranks. In order to convince Congress of such claims, these leaders have enacted numerous changes in how the military handles cases of sexual violence. While certain changes have certainly benefited alleged victims of sexual assault, such as improved methods of reporting and providing special counselors, others have clearly missed their mark (sexual assault karaoke anyone?). Regardless, every effort is used to convince Congress and the public that these military commanders fully understand and embrace their moral obligation to lead the charge in combating sexual assault. Yet no matter how often these claims are parroted, actions will always speak louder than words.
Recently, the media covered the plight of Sgt Charles Martland, a decorated Green Beret who took a stand against child sexual abuse. When confronted with a powerful official in the Afghan Local Police (ALP) who laughingly admitted to claims that he habitually raped a child, Sgt Martland and his team lead, Capt Quinn, physically assaulted the sexual predator. “We basically had to make sure that he fully understood that if he ever went near that boy or his mother again, there was going to be hell to pay.” (Capt Quinn) For his actions, the army is attempting to involuntarily separate Sgt Martland. Capt Quinn has already been separated from the Army. According to Sgt Martland, he is being punished because he couldn’t turn a blind eye to child sexual abuse as his higher-ups had commanded.
Sgt Martland is just one of several U.S. military members who claim that they were ordered to not intervene when confronted with child sexual abuse their Afghan Allies engaged in. The military’s response to such allegations has been inconsistent and confusing. The Defense spokesman, Capt Jeff Davis claims, “We have never had a policy in place that directs any military member, or any government personnel overseas to ignore human rights abuses. Any sexual abuse, no matter who the alleged perpetrator and no matter who the victim, is completely unacceptable and reprehensible.” This contrasts with the statement from Col. Brian Tribus, spokesman for the American command in Afghanistan. He states, “Generally, allegations of child sexual abuse by Afghan military or police personnel would be a matter of domestic Afghan criminal law.” He added that “there would be no express requirement that U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan report it.”
This extensively variable response to a serious issue like sexual assault reveals military leadership’s true priorities; appeasing political pressure and self-preservation. If the political pressure demands aggressively fighting sexual assault, the military does so. If the political pressure demands turning a blind eye to sexual assault, the military does so. As such, we end up with a hypocritical organization that court-martials a combat veteran for the crime of being “socially maladroit”, yet purposely ignores a culture of child rape. How can a military that values self-preservation above integrity be trusted to police its own justice system?