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Editorial: Transparency essential in court cases

May. 9, 2013 - 02:01PM   |  
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With no public notice, the Marine Corps last month conducted an Article 32 hearing for the lone officer charged in one of the most highly publicized incidents of wrongdoing by U.S. troops in Afghanistan: scout snipers urinating on dead Taliban fighters.

The incident, captured by the Marines themselves, created an international uproar, embarrassing the Corps’ senior leadership and prompting its top general to tour the service preaching the importance of ethical behavior and accountability. Seven Marines faced disciplinary action as a result of the video, and officials alerted the media about court proceedings in all but one case: that of Capt. James Clement.

Three of the six enlisted Marines received nonjudicial punishment; the others were referred to court-martial, and each case attracted ample media coverage.

The issue is that the Corps — if inadvertently — applied a different standard for Clement, raising questions as to whether he is receiving preferential treatment because he’s an officer.

The Marine Corps has a less-than-stellar track record when it comes to transparency and accountability, something the commandant is addressing in his ongoing endeavor to root out misbehavior in the ranks and call out leaders who fail to meet the standard. Full accountability must include holding all Marines to the same standards in legal proceedings, regardless of rank, and that would include open access to those proceedings. One solution: Create a centralized, publicly accessible online database listing all scheduled courts-martial across the service and synopses of their outcomes.

The press is not always popular but it fills many important roles in covering the military. One is to ensure the institution acts in the best interest of rank-and-file personnel, and to demand accountability when it does not.

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