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Opaque military justice system shields child sex abuse cases

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The Associated Press reports:

As a U.S. Marine, Daniel E. DeSmit swore to live by a code of honor. Semper fidelis, always faithful. But DeSmit shattered that pledge repeatedly — directing dozens of live Internet videos of children having sex with each other.

DeSmit, a chief warrant officer and father of three, spent at least $36,000 viewing and producing child pornography over a span of six years. In emails examined by Navy criminal investigators, DeSmit described his preference for sex with prepubescent girls as “the best experience.”

A military judge in January found DeSmit, 44, guilty of a litany of sex offenses and sentenced him to 144 years behind bars. But he’ll serve just a fraction of that time. In an undisclosed pretrial agreement, the Marine Corps slashed his prison term to 20 years. When The Associated Press asked for the investigative report in DeSmit’s case, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service rejected the Freedom of Information Act request on privacy grounds. The report was released only after AP appealed.

DeSmit’s crimes are not all that uncommon. Neither is the misleading prison sentence.

An AP investigation found the single largest category of inmates in military prisons to be child sex offenders. Yet a full accounting of their crimes and how much time they actually spend behind bars is shielded by an opaque system of justice.

Child sex assaults committed by service members have received scant attention in Washington, where Congress and the Defense Department have focused primarily on preventing and prosecuting adult-on-adult crimes. And those steps were belated. Despite years of warning signs that adult sexual assault in the ranks was a persistent problem, it took a documentary film about the situation to shock lawmakers and military leaders into action.

Of the 1,233 inmates confined in the military’s prison network, 61 percent were convicted of sex crimes, according to the AP’s analysis of the latest available data, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, known as FOIA. In just over half of those cases, the victims were children.

Since the beginning of this year, children were the victims in 133 out of 301 sex crime convictions against service members — including charges ranging from rape to distributing child pornography.

“This disturbing report exposes, once again, that our military’s justice system has glaring and unacceptable failures,” Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., said Wednesday of AP’s investigation. Tsongas, co-chair of the congressional Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, said she will be taking a closer look at what she described as “alarming findings.”

The military justice system operates independently of state and federal criminal courts. The U.S. Constitution mandates a presumption of openness in civilian courts — trials are open to the public, as are court filings, including motions and transcripts, with exceptions for documents that have been sealed. Anyone can walk into any county or U.S. courthouse and ask to read a case file without providing a reason beyond curiosity. That openness is designed to provide accountability.

But visibility in connection with military trials is minimal. While brief trial results are now made public, court records and other documents are released only after many FOIA requests, appeals and fees, and often months of waiting. While military trials are technically “open,” as are civilian trials, they take place on military bases, which are closed to the general public.

Over the past five months, AP has filed 17 separate requests under the FOIA for documents from more than 200 military sexual assault cases that ended with convictions. At the time this story was published, the military services had provided complete trial records for five cases and partial records for more than 70 others.

Under military law, children are defined as “any person who has not attained the age of 16 years.” Victims aged 16 and 17 are counted as adults, which is consistent with age-of-consent laws in most states. . .

Continue reading.

It’s a long and detailed article, and DeSmit will be released from prison in less than 7 years. (The 144-year sentence quoted in the military press release is a fiction.)

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2015 at 8:41 am

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