"Military Justice is to justice what Military Music is to music. " Groucho Marx
The sentencing of Bradley Manning( who now prefers Chelsea) to 35 years for leaking restricted data to Wikileaks has brought cries of injustice and overkill from his supporters. On the other hand, information hawks wish he would have received more.
Manning's sentence points out one thing for certain. Military Law has some strange twists to it. And it may coddle criminals.
Compare Manning's treatment to Lt. William Calley of My Lai massacre fame from the Vietnam era. Calley was sentenced to life for murder and conspiracy for the death of 115 civilians. He spent three years of that sentence in a well equipped apartment with his girlfriend.
Manning has received a lot of derision for his desire to be called Chelsea and to be transgendered. Few objected to Calley living with his girlfriend, unmarried, at taxpayer expense. Calley was later pardoned by President Richard Nixon.
Calley was an officer and a gentleman. Manning just an enlisted person.
There is no bail system in the military. Manning was held in very repressive conditions at Ft. Leavenworth, Ft. Meade, Md. and the Marine base at Quantico. Calley, accused of 115 murders, had his own place at Ft. Benning, Ga. not far from his hometown.
To his credit, Rusty Calley has expressed heartfelt regret for My Lai. He should be respected for that.
But Calley is not an exception. The military justice system might be accused of coddling murders. The last military execution was in 1961. Currently, the military has five residents on its Death Row. Two have been there since 1988 and 1989. Another one has been there since 1993. The other one was sentenced there in 2003 . The most current resident came aboard in 2008.
Ten others residents of Death Row had their sentences reduced on appeals. the current residents may die of old age before execution.
Manning expressed regret if he had hurt anyone by his intelligence leaks. One of his leaks was a tape of a murderous rampage on civilians by a Apache Helicopter crew in Iraq.The tape did have a certain My Lai deja vu to it.
So, Bradley Manning who killed no one gets 35 years. Rusty Calley serves three with a pardon.
One difference in military law and civilian law is its sentence reduction. The military has consistently reduced sentences on appeals far more than civilian courts. That makes sense . The military is primarily about running an organization that fights wars. Running a penal colony is a secondary item far down the military's priorities.
Another feature of military law is the convening authority 's ability to overturn or reduce a conviction. In civilian analogy, it would be something like a mayor overturning or reducing a sentence.
The real danger is that an artillery officer, who might be a base commander for instance, who is totally ignorant of law could overturn a military judge trained as a lawyer. A commander might also inflict his personal biases on the legal system. This has happened.
The military has recently been rocked by a scandal where 26,000 service people reported sexual assaults. Intrestingly, 50 % of those assaults were male on male. For those parents worried about their daughters in the military being sexually assaulted, perhaps they should fear for their sons also. And not just on the battlefield but in the barracks.
The military rape scandal showed how military law and procedure can be very selective. Congressional hearings showed that quite a few base commanders overturned rape convictions contrary to law and evidence. This led to attempts by lawmakers to strip the power of judicial review from convening authorities in sexual assault cases.
The military establishment says that stripping that power of judicial review from convening authorities would undermine their efforts to maintain discipline.
When it comes to rape, the military is hardly vigilant. It is estimated that only 2.5 % of sexual assaults are prosecuted. In fact, an Air Force officer, in charge of preventing sexual assaults was charged with groping a civilian woman in Arlington, Va.
In a transparent attempt at cover up, the Air Force pleaded with Arlington civilian authorities to turn the case over to them. Critics of this action said it was highly unusual for the military to try to wrest jurisdiction from civilians.
There are those who say Manning's crimes endangered the lives of thousands. This argument was advanced in the trial and rejected by the Judge. This is the same Judge who sentenced Manning to 35 years.
There has not been one iota of evidence that Manning endangered anyone except himself. The biggest crime appears to be embarrasing the military.
Manning gets 35 years. Hopefully, on appeal, the sentence will be greatly reduced. Manning should get the same measure of justice that the military's in house killers and rapists receive.
In the eyes of some, he deserves more.