Our #4 military justice story of 2012 takes us to a darker side of military justice. Mental health issues, particularly suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder, played a prominent role in the major military justice topics of this past year. Here are the wavetops:
Are post-traumatic stress disorder and bi-polar disorder substantial questions that a military judge must consider before accepting a servicemember’s guilty plea, when those disorders may have contributed to the charged misconduct?
The petition drew two amicus briefs, from the National Institute of Military Justice and from the National Veterans Foundation, but the Supreme Court denied the petition in May. After the denial, the case was profiled in the New York Times in a piece written by a former Marine judge advocate.
Next, in August, the DoD’s General Counsel directed the Joint Service Committee on Military Justice to consider amendments to the Manual for Courts-Martial to address suicide and attempted suicide in the context of the offenses of malingering in violation of Article 115, and self-injury without intent to avoid service in violation of Article 134.
Whether, as a matter of law, a bona fide suicide attempt is punishable as self-injury under Article 134.
During the oral argument, Pvt Caldwell’s counsel argued: “If [Caldwell] had succeeded, like 3,000 service members have in the past decade, he would have been treated like his service was honorable, his family would have received a letter of condolence from the president and his death would have been considered in the line of duty. Because he failed, he was prosecuted.”
And finally, two ongoing capital courts-martial involve significant mental health issues: The prosecution of SSGT Bales for the March shooting deaths of 17 Afghan civilians involves an “unspecified mental disorder,” and the prosecution of SGT Russell for the 2009 shooting deaths of five servicemembers at a combat stress center at Camp Liberty near Baghdad involves significant litigation of his ongoing mental health treatment. Additionally, while mental health issues haven’t yet impacted the capital court-martial prosecution of MAJ Hasan for the 2009 shooting attack at Fort Hood, it’s a fair assumption that they will.
Odds are that the aperture on this issue will only broaden in the new year. We’ll keep watching.
And for any readers who feel like you need help, it’s out there.