Last month, the Associated Press published a detailed investigation that highlighted flaws in the military justice system's current record databank, or lack thereof. In response, 3 U.S. senators have penned a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, demanding he lift the military justice system's "cloak of secrecy" and facilitate public access to records from sex crimes cases.
In the letter, Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) specifically argue that the current lack of transparency in military legal proceedings "calls into question the integrity of the institution and hides the system's shortcomings."
The Senators are likely directly referring to the investigation's finding that revealed the most common crime for which inmates are serving time in military prisons to be 'sex crimes against children'. Given the military's murky record-keeping-waters however, the public is largely unable to navigate the system and access criminal records that would shed light on the full scope of these crimes.
The Senators further argue that the same standards of openness should apply within the military justice system as do in civilian courts – recommending, for example, an online publication of trial records and court documents through web databases such as the civilian court's PACER. Currently, the military justice system offers no such archive. On the contrary, records relating to military sex crimes cases are only accessible via the filing of a Freedom of Information Act request, which can take several months to process.
"We find it troubling that the military delayed releasing — or even completely withheld — critical facts about these cases," the senators wrote in the letter. "The obscurity and sluggish response time only creates suspicion and mistrust."
Boxer, Gillibrand and Hirono are hardly new to the activist scene; all three lawmakers are known for their advocating extensive change in sexual assault prevention and prosecution within the military.