Military Justice, the NSA, and Independent Election Audits

Recently there were highly publicized hearings in Washington, D.C. on the subject of rape of sexual harassment in the U.S. Military and the military’s failure to make progress in reducing incidents and induce individuals to actually report crimes. One aspect of that is the fact that commanding officers have the responsibility/authority to reduce charges or even pardon the alleged or convicted perpetrators.

The senior officers were concerned for discipline if an independent authority were made responsible for cases involving rape or sexual harassment. They also said that if a soldier had a very good record of valor, that should be taken into account. Let me explain why an independent authority would be a good idea. The basic reason is that an authority that is not independent can often let self interest get in the way of justice.

I learned that lesson vividly when I was in the Army, serving in Korea during the Vietnam War. As Company Clerk I was seldom directly involved in military justice. A couple of times I helped draft some charges in minor instances and once helped transcribe interrogations as part of an investigation. But in many cases I was privy to the operation of the system on the surface and scuttlebutt behind the scenes. For the most part the system worked reasonably. Sometimes it resulted in trumped-up charges, while in other cases significant crimes or errors were completely overlooked. Why? One reason was that enlisted members often knew of errors and transgressions, including sexual exploits, of others including senior officers. Without any stated threats it seemed that nobody was interested in disciplining those that knew too much, only in helping them avoid problems. Perhaps some of those who avoid discipline today is less for valor than knowledge.

That is why we need independent post-election audits, not overseen by the registrars and Secretary of the State responsible for conducting elections. That is why we need transparency and public verification of elections. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time in executing their responsibilities. Most are innocuous, some result in vulnerabilities, and others are intentional transgressions or fraud – from stealing elections, impeding or assisting candidates in ballot access, to lucrative contracts, to cutting corners. In reality, most employees know of some of their bosses and colleagues skeletons and vice-verse, in the military, in business, and government. Whistle blowers can help but transparency and independence are much reliable.

Lets add the same applies for the NSA revelations of Edward Snowdon. We cannot be sure how extensive the problem of access to information actually is. But there are huge limits on the “trust me” model that says there are limits on how the information is used. Human nature tells that if someone can get at the data it will be used for whatever purpose the person desires, to whatever benefit that person desires, at least in some cases. Say what one will about the low level education or rank of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowdon, they had access to huge amounts of information – they and many others have that access. It does not take that much expertise if you are given the keys to the information vault – we and the Congress are in no position to know what the actual access is.

Sometimes what sounds convincing and workable, is not. We need independent military justice, independent transparent election verification, and independent transparent information security.

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