Friday, December 1, 2023

Trust shattered and dereliction of duty by Coast Guard brass (in other words, business as usual for military justice)

Earlier this  summer the U.S. Coast Guard's  senior military leader apologized for her agency's hiding a damning report from the public and Congress that detailed sexual assaults gone unchecked at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. This report, hidden for years, revealed that military leaders at the Coast Guard Academy were more worried about institutional reputation than in holding criminal perpetrators to account at the time of alleged assaults, and more worried about how the Academy would look (and how their own careers would progress) if the report came to light, thus burying it for years.

In her mea culpa a few months ago for these gross leadership failings, the U.S. Coast Guard's Commandant made empty promises of change, just like so many other top military brass have done over the past decade-plus when facing hard evidence that their senior military leaders are incapable of and unwilling to (1) hold sexual assaulters to account and (2) hold one another accountable for leadership failures in the disciplinary realm. The Commandant followed the standard practice of pledging reform and transparency, even explaining  that “[t]rust and respect thrive in transparency but are shattered by silence.” 

That trust is, or at least should be, now completely shattered. And certainly the Coast Guard Commandment deserves zero respect for her complicity in covering up patterns of leadership failings in the sexual assault realm. This indictment is due because another hidden report has just surfaced, this time going beyond the Academy to detail troubling patterns of sexual assault and harassment throughout the Coast Guard; it also reveals (as did the Academy report) numerous leadership failings and a cultural refusal to hold perpetrators accountable, and a similar institutionalized refusal to hold leaders accountable for such derelictions of their disciplinary duties.

This latest evidence of Coast Guard leaderships' refusal to share evidence of leadership failings in the sexual assault realm with their own Coast Guard rank and file, and with the public at large, is unacceptable, particularly given the Commandant's earlier pledge to do better. This current failure is made all the worse because this newest report was produced several years before the Coast Guard Academy 2019 report -- the one the Coast Guard buried until CNN brought it to attention earlier this year, prompting the Commandant's mea culpa. Perhaps the first report's earlier dissemination could have prevented some the assaults, or at least deterred their cover-ups, that occurred at the Academy prior to its own investigation and ensuring report. 

Additionally, given that this earlier report was known to senior leadership -- apparently including the Commandant herself -- while she was making empty promises to her personnel, the public and Congress about transparency and reform this summer, real action must be taken to hold leadership accountable for their failings in this realm.

Frankly, this blatant obstruction should prompt the Commander in Chief to fire the Coast Guard Commandant for dereliction of duty. Such strong measure is needed because of the history and culture of lack of accountability for dereliction of disciplinary leadership duties at the senior leadership level. That likely won't happen, as excuses will surely fly about needing time to release the report (apparently the last eight years wasn't long enough, despite numerous requests for the report by Coast Guard personnel themselves). But it should -- and while we're at it, Congress should remove all prosecutorial charging authority from military commanders, including disposing of military-unique crimes like dereliction of duty. That is, Congress should continue their nascent reform of the corrupt and racially biased military justice system. 

Senior officers prove time and time again that they are unwilling to hold other leaders accountable in this realm. Such arbitrary and unequal justice isn't justice. Yet that's what the America military justice system will continue to represent until and unless comprehensive reform is enacted, beyond a baker's dozen or so crimes being shifted to military lawyers for disposition (as they will be in the coming year). 

Some of the deepest-rooted issues currently plaguing out military, from sexual harassment and assault to racial harassment and discrimination, are directly tied to leadership failings. There's a reason dereliction of duty is a military crime -- it should finally be one in reality for senior officers regarding their leadership duties, and can only be one if professionals who are independent from the military chain of command have the power to prosecute it.

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