Thursday, September 15, 2022

Transparency and military justice

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, ProPublica, and 38 media organizations have sent this letter to Caroline D. Krass, General Counsel of the Department of Defense, concerning timely access to court-martial records. They argue that "[t]he Armed Services must implement Art. 140a [of the Uniform Code of Military Justice] in a manner consistent with congressional intent and the public’s First Amendment and common law rights of access to military court records."

ProPublica has posted this story about the letter and its context. Excerpt:
In the Mays case, explained in the ProPublica article “The Navy Is Withholding Court Records in a High-Profile Ship Fire Case,” a sailor was accused of aggravated arson and hazarding a vehicle in the 2020 fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard. But the Navy and a military judge have refused to release records in the case, citing Article 140a of the Uniform Code of Military Justice as well as a memo issued by the former DOD general counsel and Navy instructions interpreting that guidance.

The media organizations argue that the Navy has misinterpreted Article 140a, noting that Congress adopted it in 2016 to promote transparency in the military courts and to enhance public access to court records and docket information at every stage of court-martial proceedings. The article points to well-settled guidance that court-martial proceedings must resemble a criminal trial in federal district court as much as possible. The media coalition notes that access to these records is also required by the First Amendment and common law rights of public access to court proceedings and records. The media organizations are asking Krass to make clear that the court records in the Mays case must be released immediately and any future filings be released contemporaneously.

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