Gillibrand: The Military Justice Improvement Act Would Give Service Members a Justice System That Works (July 1, 2019)

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You can listen to U.S. Navy veteran Brian Lewis’ March 13, 2013 testimony to the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel here.

“Nearly 30 years ago, when George H. W. Bush was president and Dick Cheney was the secretary of defense, the Pentagon made a promise to our service members. Dozens of Navy and Marine Corps aviation officers had just been investigated for the infamous Tailhook sexual assault scandal, and America’s military leadership affirmed a “zero tolerance” policy toward sexual assault within their ranks. The military had a sexual assault problem, and pledged to solve it.

It’s painfully clear that the military has now failed at this mission by almost any metric. For years, survivor after survivor has told us the change in the system we needed to make to end this scourge — the same change that a number of our allies around the world have already made: take the adjudication of these crimes outside of the chain of command and allow trained military prosecutors to prosecute them.” Read more opinion at Military Times here.

“The Military Justice Improvement Act would take the prosecution of sexual assault and other serious crimes, such as murder, out of the chain of command. It would keep those crimes in the military justice system, but put the decision to prosecute them into the hands of actual military prosecutors who are trained to deal with complex legal issues.” –Senator Kirsten Gillbrand (Military Times, July 1, 2019)

Gillibrand Leads Bipartisan Coalition to Reform Military Justice System  -Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (May 16, 2013)

Related Links:
Pass the Military Justice Improvement Act @SenGillibrand
S. 1789: Military Justice Improvement Act of 2019
S. 1789: Military Justice Improvement Act of 2019 [Full Text]
Comprehensive Resource Center for the Military Justice Improvement Act
Sens. Cruz, Gillibrand Reintroduce Military Justice Improvement Act
Udall, Heinrich Reintroduce Military Justice Improvement Act To Address Crisis Of Military Sexual Assault
Leahy Joins Gillibrand And Others To Reintroduce Military Justice Improvement Act
Hirono Wants To Change How The Military Prosecutes Sexual Assault
Senator Martha McSally’s Responsibility to Survivors of Military Sexual Assault
McSally defends keeping military commanders involved in sexual assault cases
Gillibrand: “Status Quo” Not Working With Military Sexual Assaults
Veterans for Peace: Sexual Assault on Military Members Press Conference, Seattle, Washington (August 11, 2006)
Jamie Leigh Jones Testified at the House Judiciary Committee Halliburton/KBR Iraq Rape Case Hearing (December 19, 2007)
HOR Oversight Subcommittee on National Security & Foreign Affairs Held a Hearing on Sexual Assault in the Military (July 31, 2008)
Former Representative Bruce Braley (D-IA) Introduced the Holley Lynn James Act (April 12, 2011)
Lauterbach Case Prompts Policy Reforms for Victims of Sexual Assault in the Military (December 25, 2011)
Sexual Misconduct Allegations at Lackland AFB | C-SPAN (January 23, 2013)
Panetta Is Lifting Ban On Women In Combat Roles (NPR, January 23, 2013)
Sexual Assault in the Military, Part 1 | C-SPAN (March 13, 2013)
Sexual Assault in the Military, Part 2 | C-SPAN (March 13, 2013)
Gillibrand Leads Bipartisan Coalition to Reform Military Justice System [Full Video] | Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (May 16, 2013)
Gillibrand Builds Bipartisan Support for Change of Military Justice Code (May 16, 2013)
S. 967: Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013 – U.S. Senate Voting Record (March 6, 2014)
The war in Congress over rape in the military, explained (June 8, 2016)
Sexual Assault in the Military | C-SPAN (March 6, 2019)
S. 1789: Military Justice Improvement Act of 2019 Reintroduced by Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York (June 13, 2019)
Senate Armed Services Committee Members & House Armed Services Committee Members (June 21, 2019)
Gillibrand: The Military Justice Improvement Act Would Give Service Members a Justice System That Works (July 1, 2019)

Extraordinary Claims Should Require Extraordinary Evidence (June 26, 2018)

National GuardGuest Post by Liz Ullman:

Enrique Costas comes from four generations of dignified and recognized military service. His grandfather’s name is in the history books as one of the first soldiers to join the Puerto Rico National Guard to serve the United States. His father defended this country for 32 years, earning an Air Medal for heroism in Vietnam; his nephew will be commissioned as an officer in the next week and will be going on active duty.

Costas enlisted in the Puerto Rico National Guard in 1988. In 1999 he volunteered to be assigned as a Recruiter, earning top awards and commendations throughout his almost 14 years as the Senior Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of the Puerto Rico Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention (RR) Command office in San Juan. He was also selected and participated for seven years in the Puerto Rico National Guard Honor Guard, the team responsible for carrying our Nation’s and Army Colors in the highest of the Government’s activities and celebrations.

He was responsible for achieving monthly production for the three main tenets of the Guard recruiting office: Recruiting, Retention and Attrition Management • Staff resourcing for two Army battalions covering 13 cities • Supervising and mentoring up to 10 recruiting and retention non-commissioned officers.

Costas was a champion in mission accomplishment with the highest integrity and ethics. His walls are filled awards and photos with the Guard’s top-ranking officers, including General Clyde A. Vaughn, who personally commended Costas for his service and integrity. Costas retired in 2014 after Honorably serving our Nation for over 26 years.

The biggest mistake Costas made in his career was simply being on duty during the Guard Recruiting Assistance Program also known as G-RAP, a cash incentive opportunity for civilian soldiers to bring in new recruits. With no direction from Washington D.C.’s Strength Maintenance Division, General Vaughn’s recruiters were supposed to intuit the 60 changes in the G-RAP rules over a seven-year period, while also working to fill the dwindling ranks of Guard troops.

Just before dawn, on an early October morning in 2015, Costas’s home was stormed by six Federal agents and two State police officers, in full tactical gear. Costas thought his family was under attack, and it was – by the Government he had served. Costas was arrested and taken to a Federal Courthouse where he was charged with “crimes” dating back almost ten years, during the days of G-RAP.

Costas is one of hundreds of General Vaughn’s recruiters who have been held responsible for not knowing the G-RAP rules that were never sent to them. And not just held responsible — charged with criminal intent to commit fraud against the Government. General Vaughn, who created and administered G-RAP, and who was administratively sanctioned for poor management, is enjoying full retirement in Virginia and Arizona.

Costas is going to prison.

The government’s “evidence” against Costas and other recruiters does not even meet the standard of circumstantial. In his case, the government admitted during trial to having no actual evidence, but only a “reasonable inference” that a crime could have been committed.

As a recruiter, Costas could not and did not participate in G-RAP. There were no Army regulations that governed G-RAP because the program was run by a private Alabama-based contractor called Docupak. Docupak was essentially incentivized to run a sloppy program, earning a 17% markup on every new enlistment, on top of their contract fees and administrative expenses. This lack of training stands in sharp contrast to how the Army usually operates, with manuals and rules on almost every action and procedure.

The one rule that the prosecution seized on to brand soldiers and veterans as felons regarded the relationship between the Recruiting Officer and the Docupak civilian contractors known as Recruiting Assistants (RAs). When G-RAP began, those contractors were regarded as assistants to the Recruiting Officers. The Recruiting Officers might use the RAs to give that extra push to a potential applicant considering enlisting. The Recruiting Officers were encouraged to ask the RAs to attend recruiting events and help with the finding of potential candidates. The original program outline stated that the Recruiting Officer would provide specifics for each possible enlistment to the RA, including legal name, birth date and social security number. That information was used by Docupak to verify enlistments and process payments to their RA contractors. In later descriptions of G-RAP, the social security number would go from the new recruit to the RA contractor, bypassing the Recruiting Officer, which not a single RA contractor reports ever seeing or any evidence has ever been produced by Docupak that verifies it.

This procedural change has resulted in hundred of indictments and scores of convictions for identity theft and wire fraud. Soldiers and veterans are in prison. Costas, sadly, is on his way.

After the government filed more than 50 felonies against Costas, his defense team could not overcome the wrath of the United States and he was convicted by a jury who felt that with so many felonies filed, Costas certainly had to have done something wrong.

He did not. G-RAP was a tangle of mismanagement; the soldiers who were on duty during its tenure are paying the price of administrative failures by their command. In an internal investigation done by the Puerto Rico National Guard pertaining to G-RAP in 2012, the Investigating Officer admitted that “Recruiters had no formal training on how G-RAP operated.”

Costas and his family had their hearts broken when the prosecution opened with statements calling him a “cheater, stealer and a liar.” He said these words, “pierced the core of his soul.”

Presumption of Innocence or even the “benefit of the doubt” was never given. In the end the Government spent an estimated $100,000 prosecuting Costas and the jury found Costas guilty on three charges amounting to $3,000. Although never having a criminal record and an impeccable military career, the judge sentenced Costas to prison. In the end “reasonable inference” and circumstantial evidence weighed more than 26 years of honorable service willing to sacrifice life and limb.

Recently the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th District reversed and vacated a conviction of an accused soldier involving G-RAP and determined, that the “Government did not retain a revisionary interest in the funds and that it did not exercise supervision or control over the funds”. This decision cannot be applied to Costas unless the United States Court of Appeals for the 1st District, the Supreme Court, or Congress rules on it.

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
― Carl Sagan

The claims were extraordinary. The evidence was missing. And yet, a United States military hero and veteran has been sacrificed.

We respectfully request that Congress or the White House appoint a commission to review the G-RAP investigation, to identify Soldiers that have been unjustly stigmatized by it, and to recommend suitable cases for clemency and pardon.

Related Links:
Stop G-RAP Injustice | Facebook
The Conspiracy Behind the G-RAP War on American Soldiers (March 30, 2016)
If You Look at the Dollars, Guard Recruiting Assistance Program Investigations Make No Sense (July 12, 2016)
Top Ten Problems with the National Guard Recruiting Assistance Program (G-RAP) Investigations (December 15, 2016)
An Open Letter to Congress Regarding the Investigations of the National Guard Recruiting Assistance Program (June 5, 2017)

How do we stop the retaliation from happening so victims of crimes in the military feel safe to report?

Even if you do go forward with a case and it’s adjudicated in your favor, it’s the retaliation that kicks our ass and de-rails our careers. Why is this happening? If you wonder why some who have been assaulted have severe PTSD, it’s the retaliation compounding the original trauma. And if you don’t report and try and soldier on, it catches up with you anyways in the form of behavioral issues and suicidal ideation. How do we stop the retaliation in the military from happening so victims of crimes feel safe to report?

Related Links:
Home Base Veteran Story: Jennifer & Lee Norris
Personal Story and Testimony of TSgt. Jennifer Norris, US Air Force Retired, Before the House Armed Services Committee in Washington DC (2013)
Military Policy and Legislation Considerations for the Investigations of Non Combat Death, Homicide, and Suicide of US Service Members
Massachusetts School of Law Interviews Veteran Jennifer Norris About Violent Crime in the Military & Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
What Happens When a Rape is Reported in the Military?

Letter of Support for Save Our Heroes in Our Shared Quest for Military Justice Reform & Constitutional Rights

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October 1, 2016

U.S. House of Representatives
United States Senate
Washington, DC

To Whom It May Concern:

This is a letter of support for Save Our Heroes. We recognized immediately that Save Our Heroes and victims of crimes both want similar changes in the military justice system. Save Our Heroes is asking for three specific legislative/policy changes to restore fundamental fairness in the military justice system:

1. Remove all Commanders authority from decision-making in the legal system.
2. The number of panel members should be increased to 12 for General Courts Martial.
3. Any conviction at Courts Martial shall require a unanimous verdict.

These requests by Save Our Heroes are similar to the overall changes that victims of crimes in the military have lobbied for, specifically that Commanders be removed from the reporting and decision-making process because of fear of bias, lack of investigative training, and the power to discharge and/or punish with the stroke of a pen. Save Our Heroes is requesting the same changes because ultimately both the victims and accused are looking for a military justice system that mirrors the civilian justice system while respecting the need of the Commanding Officer to ensure discipline is maintained within their command. We want a justice system where crimes are reported to legal authorities and not a Commander who is an authority figure with the power to impact your entire life. We want a justice system where crimes will be investigated thoroughly by unbiased military criminal investigative organizations looking for the truth. We want a justice system that provides the same constitutional rights as those provided in the civilian justice system. Save Our Heroes is specifically asking for changes that are commonplace in the civilian justice system, like a jury of twelve of our peers and a unanimous verdict. Our military deserves no less.

Victims of crimes in the military are asking for a military justice system that provides due process for the accuser and the accused. Crime victims want the ability to go to trial based on an independent prosecutor’s decision to charge because there was sufficient evidence to move forward with a case. Crime victims want those people who level false accusations, and engage in other abuses of the process, to be held accountable. While we recognize that false reports represent a small percentage of total reports (between 2-8 percent based on Bureau of Justice Statistics data), those who do falsely accuse are hurting the real victims of these crimes and should be held accountable through the same impartial military justice system. Both the accusers and the accused are asking for due process, which is best accomplished by a system that mirrors the civilian justice system. Currently, Commanders have control of the process when the accused, accuser, defense attorneys, and prosecutors should have control over the process.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Norris, Military Justice for All
Stephanie Schroeder, US Human Rights Network & UN Board Member
Brian Lewis, Men Recovering from Military Sexual Trauma

A Complete List of the 35 Basic Military Training Instructors Court Martialed in the Lackland Air Force Base Sex Scandal

USAF SealThe Lackland Air Force Base sex scandal erupted in the 2011/2012 time frame. Sig Christenson, a reporter from San Antonio Express, slowly began to reveal the sex scandal issues at the basic military training facility in Texas and reported on most of the courts martials initiated by the Air Force. As a result of the escalating media coverage and other forces at play, it gave military sexual assault advocacy organizations a reason to request hearings in front of the House Armed Services Committee. Congressional hearings were held on January 23, 2013.  Both General Edward Rice and General Mark Welsh testified at this hearing along with two retired Air Force women and Dr. David Lisak. In the end, 35 Basic Military Training personnel were courts martialed for allegedly abusing trainees or sex related offenses. Now that the dust has settled and some time has passed, whistleblowers have disclosed that the Air Force investigations trampled on due process rights. And individuals were railroaded with collateral charges which forced them to take plea deals to avoid excessive punishments. Two were found guilty of rape and sentenced to twenty years. The Air Force is being accused of going on a “witch hunt” after being politically motivated to clean up the basic training facility while under the watchful eye of the media, advocates, and Congress. This post was inspired by Never Leave an Airman Behind: How the Air Force Faltered & Failed in the Wake of the Lackland Sex Scandal by Lt Col Craig Perry, USAF Retired.

Continue reading

Air Force Defends Handling of Sex Scandal (2013)

USAF SealThe House Armed Services Committee hears testimony on Lackland Air Force Base’s sexual misconduct problem. Generals say they’re addressing underlying issues, but victims have concerns.

The hearing did not include testimony from the alleged sexual assault victims at Lackland, nor from those charged or convicted in connection with the investigation. But two Air Force veterans who said they were sexually assaulted years ago did testify.

“If you want a career, you don’t want to say anything because you get retaliated against; you get beat up and thrown out. We need to remove the chain of command from the reporting process — it’s absolutely detrimental,” she said, adding that as a military sexual assault victim, “You almost become a leper.” She testified that two of her attackers pleaded guilty, but others were never charged.

Read more here.