The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has released a fascinating white paper, available here, on journalists’ access to information about court-martial dockets.
This excerpt will give you a flavor of the report:
Unlike civilian courts, which routinely supply the public with detailed dockets, most military courts release docketing information sporadically at their own self-interested discretion, if at all. This policy of secrecy has frustrated the press in its attempts to report on important military justice proceedings, while enabling some government officials to hide criminal cases that could be embarrassing or damaging to the military. Perhaps most alarmingly, the public has been left critically uninformed as to the competence and fairness of the military justice system.
The report was prepared in conjunction with the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University. The Tully Center conducted a study in which its researchers contacted 25% of the military installations of each service (excluding the National Guard) seeking schedules for upcoming courts-martial and Article 32s. It found that 57 percent of the installations surveyed provided partial or full information about their court-martial dockets while 37 percent provided no information. (The rest were spread between a couple of categories that appear to boil down to “not applicable.”) For Article 32 investigations, 49% of installations provided partial or full information while 45% provided no information.
The Tully Center also breaks the stats down by branch. Which branch do you think was the most forthcoming and which the least? Here they are, from most to least informative: Coast Guard (78%), Army (65%), Air Force (63%), Marine Corps (43%), Navy (42%).
The Reporters Committee white paper calls for either a UCMJ amendment or an RCM change to formalize the release of docket information. Under the proposal, DOD would set up a public interservice web site (presumably also including Coast Guard data) that would list “[e]ach and every military court proceeding” two weeks in advance (or as soon as reasonably possible where two weeks’ notice is impossible).
The report concludes:
Regardless of the precise legislative form by which these reforms occur, the most significant characteristic of the reforms must be their standardized, indelible nature. The current system appears to operate at the discretion of individual branch officials, and, in many cases, the discretion of individual military court judges. To provide the American public with a fair and competent military justice system, the new military court docketing system must be operated independently from the whim and motive of individuals and enforceable by law.
NIMJ released this statement endorsing the white paper’s proposal that Congress “require DOD to establish a public website in order to provide accurate and timely information to the public and the news media about upcoming courts-martial.”