Share |

On Justice

Justice in an organization is that which the employees perceive as being fair, with respect to, workplace procedures, interactions and results or payoffs. Well planned structures, policies and processes in an organization promote fair and equal treatment which is associated with employee well-being and prosperity. Therefore justice or the lack of it in an organisation is an instance of a nature of a society. The military is one of the largest organizations which has both social and political implications in terms of justice.
The intent of this piece of writing is to see how the system of justice works in the military and since this is usually inconspicuous to the general public one of the few insights one can get is through this documentary film, called, The Invisible War, directed by Kirby Dick, released in 2012 in the United States.  The film exposes the systematic cover up of the rampant sexual abuse within the U.S. military, often remarked as, one of America’s best kept secrets. What is shocking is not just the staggering sex crimes but also the broken military judicial system. The film documented some important claims; in 1991, in Congressional testimony, it was estimated that 200,000 women had been sexually assaulted so far in the US military and the figure stands at over half a million today. In the year 2009 alone, 3230 women and men reported assault, and considering that only 20 percent of them report, the actual assaults stand at around 16,150. The Department of Defence (DOD) estimates that over 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military in 2010. In 2011, 3,192 sexual assaults were reported but it was also estimated that 86% of incidents were not reported, which totals to 22,548 sexual assaults in that year. The DOD reckons that up to now, only 13.5 percent of all victims, both male and female have actually reported incidents of sexual assault. Of those reported, less than 10 percent are prosecuted.  There is no maintenance of a registry of sex offenders with the DOD, thereby allowing for rapists, including repeat offenders who leave the military, to enter the civilian workforce without recrimination. A brief review of the under reporting and the prosecution figures paints a picture of a system that is fundamentally flawed. Until recently, the procedure for reporting a rape or sexual assault was to report to one’s commanding officer. Now, this in itself may not seem the problem, but when you have 25 percent of servicewomen who do not report their rape, because the person to report to was the rapist or another 33 percent who also do not report their rape because the rapist was a friend or a ‘drinking buddy’ of the commanding officer, then, that renders a flaw in the system.  If neither of the above is the problem, then there is still the possibility of pressure on the victim at every level to withdraw the report or to not report, lest the unit be seen as one with a rape problem. Such designs originate from policies such as ‘zero tolerance’ that come from senior military officials that reward units with ‘clean records’. Victims, who do report, receive professional retaliation; there are repercussion they must be prepared to face if the allegation is found to be untrue. They could lose their rank or their school. There are several instances where rape kits and evidence have gone ‘missing’ and/or the credibility of the witness is called into account along with occurrences of witch hunting at every level. One survivor who worked in the Criminal Investigation Division said that in most rape cases a cursory investigation is done and then the concerned teams are usually instructed to ‘suck it up’. While the basic problem seems to be with chain of command structure, the military hides behind the notion that it is hard or almost impossible to prosecute rape. Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) is but a wretched attempt by the military to prevent sexual crimes. It promotes a notion that anybody can be a rapist, so prevention is at best done at the individual level, where one has a trusted ‘buddy’ around at all times. It misses an opportunity to take real steps to prevent rape. A lawsuit filed in 2010, at the federal court, by 16 survivors alleged that the government had overseen a system that has deprived the rape survivors of their constitutional rights specifically the deprivation of their rights of substance of due process, their procedural due process, equal protection and first amendment rights. In December 2011, the Court dismissed the survivor’s lawsuit ruling that rape is an occupational hazard of military service which suggests that there is an expectation of enculturation (it is being used here as the process of initiating individuals into the culture of the military in this case) of women to the norms of this culture. Another study of Navy recruits reveals that 15 percent of men admitted to having raped someone prior to enlisting with 71 percent from among them admitting to committing serial rape. Does that then mean that the military is attracting men who rape and thereby creating a culture where rape is permissible?

It also calls into question the functionality of the organization. While, the military establishment is a system of security, one that aims at protecting a nation and its people from external and internal threat of a violent nature, the functioning of it is such that it betrays the very security of those who endeavour to afford us ours. While it has been identified that the system of adjudication is erroneous and deficient, there is also the greater question of perpetuation of a practice of this kind. Justice can be operationalized in the terms of a constitution or restoration of rights.

Will an impeccable system warrant that justice is meted to those who have been wronged? Will penalization ultimately prove a deterrent to potential rapists in a system that trains people to overcome inhibition against bestiality?  In the year 2012, the US military announced changes to better the managing of sexual assault allegations; most important of them being that local unit commanders would now require to report allegations to a special court-martial convening authority. Apart from that, victims can now seek an immediate transfer if the person accused is in the same unit and evidence from rape cases would be kept for 50 years, affording victims more time to file charges. Another interesting announcement was that no one below the rank of colonel or navy captain can dismiss assault allegations. How far would this be successful in delivering justice to those who have been aggrieved is dubious. The intent of the film is to uncover the epidemic of rape within the US military and remonstrate the military’s insufferable response to it. It hopes to reach policy makers and top military officials who can realize real time changes in the military judicial system.  While the documentary was successful in bringing out a lot of factual information its main weakness lies in the fact that it does not cover the basis of remedial suggestions too well.
Alternative ways of administering of justice should be considered. A system that is akin to the civilian law system such as a specially created armed forces court would ensure an effective and impartial system of judgment. Prosecution must be broadened in its scope and reach. Investigative powers must be entrusted to a body independent of the commanding unit. Setting up of a special helpline service to report untoward incidents or any kind of offensive conduct, would facilitate smoother investigation in the likelihood of an actual sexual assault. Dismissal of allegations should not be the dominion of any single person because there is always room for villainy. Villainy could be a result of prejudices or biases which cloud the process of judgment and it is therefore not ideal to leave everything to the ruling of one person. In fact, there should be no dismissal of allegation without a primary investigation by a third party. Equally important is the necessity for involving women officers in the committee that will look into grievances of assault of the sexual variety even if they are on men. There also need be only officers of a certain rank that should be allowed to take decisions but people of the rank of the person accused of crime and that of the one who has been a victim should also be made to sit in the committee so that they can understand the claims of both parties involved.  Higher ranks usually have a look out which is not sympathetic to lower ranks and the victims usually are of the lower ranks. A jury system could really help in such cases, members of which should be appointed on the basis of qualification. There should be no incentives attached to having ‘clean units’ rather individual conduct of servicemen must be rewarded. Anti- retaliation policies must be implemented to curb the under reporting and to protect those who suffer from the fear of retribution. Unsubstantiated accusations must also be dealt with by the investigating body and adequate steps should be taken to restore that person's reputation. Policies must be made to ensure the treatment of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) patients and assault victims within a stipulated time period.

Besides this, there is also the bigger question of what bolsters this impropriety. The military as we know is a very masculinist organization. It indoctrinates recruits with the importance of dominance and power. Not only are they trained to be brutal and violent but they are also trained in a set-up which does not allow to question authority, which leaves them with little or no room for rationalizing and thereby creates an environment for ostentations of manliness which engenders violence. Soldiers work in galvanic settings and this makes it all the more important to foster reciprocity and mutual trust which can be achieved through socialization. While there is the general process of organizational socialization, there should be an enculturation of appropriate and expected behaviour too. The assault victims interviewed in the documentary recounted why they wished to join the military, and three out of four said, it was for the discipline and camaraderie. That is the outsider’s view of the establishment but what happens inside isn’t quite the same. Since it is clear that comradeship isn’t always self-generated, internalizing of certain norms becomes a determining factor to build it into society.
The documentary has successfully projected the thought of people who are on the outside looking in and the processes that are usually known only to the people on the inside looking out. It would have been of greater value (by saying this, it is not undermining its present value) if it could synthesize the views from outside and inside. That kind of presentation and the notions of justice and injustice would have been clearer to the people viewing the documentary. In that sense, the documentary does not realise its full potential and because of that remains a heuristic device mainly leaving viewers with a choice of drawing conclusions of their own and that is a process which is perhaps a minefield of disastrous consequences.