More than 1,000 sexual assaults were reported among Okinawa, Japan-based military service members from 2005 to 2013. Of those 1,000 reported cases, only six percent of the accused ever saw jail time, according to Department of Defense internal documents.
According to the documents, military court martials regarding sexual assault cases have proven to be very inconsistent in administering punishments. In two similar cases, each one year apart, an enlisted Marine serviceman was accused for sexually assaulting another service member after a night of heavy drinking.
The first case was substantiated by DNA evidence, but the accused was only reduced in rank and confined to his base for 30 days. In the case one year later, the accused was reduced in rank, sentenced to six years in prison, and dishonorably discharged from the United States military, dramatically inconsistent judgements in a short amount of time.
The documents outlined that only 224 of the 1,000 ever received any punishment, and that those punishments were usually lenient considering the nature of the crime. The Marine Corps. handed out the most punishments of all the military branches, with 53 incarcerations out of 270 cases. The Air Force was most lenient as only 21 offenders out of 124 cases were punished, and were done so merely by a letter of reprimand.
The Associated Press conducted the investigation and obtained the DoD internal documents through the Freedom of Information Act after military service members attacked Japanese women in Okinawa, which created tensions between Japan and the U.S. military.
The main concern among politicians on Capitol Hill in regards to military rape is the overriding jurisdiction that senior military officers have over court-martial decisions. Senate Armed Services’ personnel subcommittee leader Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has been leading a bipartisan group of lawmakers to lessen senior officers’ power over court martial decisions. And the AP investigation has given them more fuel.
The investigation “shows the direct evidence of the stories we hear every day,” said Gillibrand. “The men and women of our military deserve better. The deserve to have unbiased, trained military prosecutors reviewing their cases, and making decisions based solely on the merits of the evidence in a transparent way.”
Gillibrand drafted a bill that would disable senior officers from deciding how to prosecute against serious crimes, and is expected to appear before the Senate within the next two weeks. The bill would transfer that power to experienced trial counsels ranked colonel and above. Although it’s a common sense bill, some GOP politicians are criticizing the proposal. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has opposed it.
“It [the bill] would dismantle the military justice system beyond sexual assaults,” said Graham. “It would take the commanders off the hook for their responsibility to fix this problem.”
While Sen. Graham believes the bill would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, the truth is that the military judicial system is comprised of a large network of court martial officials and senior officers too incompetent to righteously exercise the autonomy they’ve been afforded. Gillibrand’s bill would simply remove the questionable factor altogether and allow fair trials with final decisions against heinous crimes.