Yesterday, 9-13-2006, I attended my second court martial. If I didn’t mention it before, the ANA recently enacted their military justice code. It’s a lot like ours only not as much detail.
The charge was unauthorized use of a military vehicle. The young soldier dropped off his commander, drove into Kabul and then drove home to visit his fiancé that night. He was stopped at a police check-point and they discovered that he had the vehicle without permission. He was arrested and taken to the Pol-e-charki prison/holding facility.
In all systems of justice, the degree of punishment usually depends on the soldier, his record, and the circumstances. The prosecutor even stated that he was a good soldier, no prior disciplinary problems, no intent to steal the vehicle and that he came from a good family.
So what kind of punishment would you deem appropriate?
OK, he did leave his commander high and dry without a ride back from his meeting.
OK, he did spend several hours in Kabul before heading home to see his fiancé.
OK, he did take the vehicle without permission.
In our system, he could receive everything from a counseling statement, a reprimand, non-judicial punishment (appear before the commander and be punished with potential punishments being loss of pay, reduction in rank, confinement, extra duties, etc.) or even a court-martial. Realize that in our system, court-martial is very serious and is the equivalent, in most cases, of a criminal court conviction.
Have you decided on a punishment yet?
Would you throw him into prison to await his trial and punishment?
Have I teased you enough?
OK, here’s what happened.
He was placed into pre-trial confinement. He remained in pre-trial confinement until the date of his trial. Under their new system, he would go to trial within 120 days. There was no similar provision under the old system.
At the trial, his commander was unable to be there but because he had signed a confession, that was used against him.
He and his defense attorney did not deny that he had taken the vehicle. They stressed however, that he had no intention to steal it, something that was never alleged.
He was found guilty at trial.
He was sentenced to the time he had spent in prison.
How much time do you ask? Eight months and change!! He spent 8 months in prison just for taking a vehicle without permission.
Now lest you think that too harsh, OK, it was too harsh, it was a fault of their old system. They didn’t have a non-judicial punishment system in place that should have been used in this type of case. That’s one of the things I need to do is work with the court system to get any of these old cases resolved so that young soldiers are not sitting in prison that don’t need to be. Some of the cases I need to get resolved through NJP. I’ve got my work cut out for me.