Category Archives: News

New book by MLTF member Marjorie Cohn examines military drones and other targeted killing

The latest book by longtime MLTF member Marjorie Cohn — who is also past president of the National Lawyers Guild — is due for release on October 30 and is now available for pre-order from the publisher and book stores/distributors. The book provides an examination of the Obama administration policy of using drones and other methods in targeted killings off the battlefield.

"Ferguson Day 6, Picture 44" by Loavesofbread - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Locals have no love for occupying armies, whether in Baghdad or Ferguson

NEWS ANALYSIS

After the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, by a white cop, in the middle of a street in broad daylight — and the unexpected global outrage it provoked – the subsequent disproportional response by local law enforcement has made militarization of the police a hot topic that even the most tepid news organizations are recognizing.

Following decades of hyped “wars” on drugs and terror, the federal government got the ingenious idea of equipping local police departments with surplus weapons from the armed forces — presumably because they weren’t using them fast enough around the world and they were offered even more and better weapons by “defense” contractors. Surely, they reasoned, local constabularies could assist in protecting the citizenry from the twin scourges of drugs and terror with which we are at “war.” While this transfer of military equipment has been going on for many years now, the over-the-top police response to protests in Ferguson has shone a light on it and prompted questions about the wisdom of providing police departments with tanks, drones and other implements of (mass) destruction used for fighting actual wars.

Of course, there are a few examples of this mentality that pre-dates “the war on terror.” Even as far back as 1985, the Philadelphia police bombed the home of a local organization, MOVE, which may have presaged some of the problems that could arise with excessive weaponry. MOVE was not especially popular among the populace, but all united in outrage at the bombing.

But it’s only now that most news analysts and policymakers are noticing the rather predictable repercussions of arming local cops like a commando squad in a war zone: Departments with some very powerful new toys will find excuses to use them, because after all, once you are given a hammer, everything is a nail. But one reality about police use of heavy military equipment has gone largely undiscussed. It’s been cloaked by propagandistic news reports and almost universal glib praise for the skill and professionalism of America’s armed forces, but it’s something the MLTF and other groups have always known.

Op-Ed: Military Sexual Violence rooted in military culture

Curbing Convening Authority Power to Alter Court-Martial Convictions Is No Solution, Is Insufficient and Misses the Point

David Gespass

David Gespass

By David Gespass

There is no denying that “sexual assault” (a euphemism for rape and attempted rape) is a serious problem within the military. Indeed, it has always been a problem, though it may now be more serious from the point of view of military authorities because victims, increasingly, are other members of the armed forces rather than civilians.

To date, the solutions that have been proposed are, from the military, more training and, from various civilians (most notably, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand), stripping convening authorities of their power to alter court-martial convictions and sentences. The former has been spectacularly unsuccessful. The latter highlights the tension between two important ends, those of protecting people from sexual violence and protecting the due process rights of individuals accused of crime.

Thus far, there has been near universal acknowledgment that the problem exists but little has been done to address, much less solve, it. Indeed, even as sexual violence appears epidemic, elected officials tie themselves in knots praising our men and women in uniform while, at the same time, condemning perpetrators of such violence yet refusing even to consider that the culture of the armed forces promotes it. This is not to say that everyone who enlists is bound to become a predator. Rather, the soil of military culture is one in which potential predators can be nourished and thrive. And our elected officials are loath to suggest such a thing for fear of being criticized as disparaging “our” troops.

National Lawyers Guild Submits Comments for Improving Military Justice System to Department of Defense Military Justice Review Group

NEW YORK — The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) today submitted comments to the Defense Department’s Military Justice Review Group as part of its comprehensive review of the military justice system. Recommendations to improve the system include eliminating the “convening authority” as the near-absolute final arbiter of what constitutes justice in a given case. The NLG also calls for eliminating criminal liability for acts that are purely military offenses, and for clarifying the effect of a conviction by summary court-martial.

“We are gratified that this review is taking place, as changes in the court martial system are long overdue. We do not believe that anything less than a complete restructuring of the way the military handles offenses can be adequate. We have, therefore, focused on large changes, rather than the many small details that could lead to some incremental improvement without altering the basic inequities that lead so many to see military justice as an oxymoron, said David Gespass, NLG past president and one of the authors of the comments.

What’s new in Conscientious Objector law?

Deborah Karpatkin

Deborah Karpatkin

By Deborah H. Karpatkin

The years 2005-2011 saw a number of federal court cases considering habeas corpus applications from military conscientious objectors.  These cases were ably considered in Steve Collier’s excellent article in the March 2011 issue of On Watch.

Today, with the military reducing its personnel and combat activity, we are, not surprisingly, seeing fewer CO applications. Indeed, we know of no reported habeas cases from military COs after the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Kanai v. McHugh.1

Nevertheless, a review of recent cases may be valuable for practitioners and counselors, in these four respects.

First, each of the four appellate CO habeas decisions of the Afghanistan-Iraq era – Aguayo v. Harvey, Hanna v. Secretary, Watson v. Geren, and Kenai v. McHugh (citations at endnotes 2, 7, 9, 13, respectively) – has generated some additional law. Attention to these leading CO cases offers some insight into how courts will apply their holdings in future CO litigation.

Second, recent case law offers opportunities for practitioners and counselors seeking remedies for the hardships faced by unsuccessful COs.

Third, courts continue to be unwelcoming to cases challenging selective service registration on CO grounds.

Finally, the term “conscientious objector” continues to have legal vitality in a range of non-military CO cases, which in turn may influence the judges who decide our military CO cases.