Flightlines

Computer glitch keeps public in the dark in courts-martial

If you want to check out the court-martial docket — and you’re not privy to a military network — well, good luck with that.

As the so-called crime and slime reporter here at Air Force Times, I have long relied on the Judge Advocate General website to stay in the know about airmen accused of acting up. You don’t see too many Air Force press releases about an airman charged with a crime — often unless the alleged misdeed occurred off base and civilian authorities were involved. (Then it’s a matter of public record and will show up in police reports and court records.)

Without the docket, I wouldn’t have learned earlier this year that a technical sergeant was charged with killing one of his children and severely injuring another. The case was never written about – not a word turned up anywhere – until it was scheduled for court-martial. James Sauk, who had worked for U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Meade, Md., was convicted in March of involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide and two counts of assault.

The dockets, until recently, included an airman’s first and last names, rank, base, charges and a contact number for the base public affairs office. First names were replaced earlier this year with just a first initial, which made finding any previous information about the airman or the alleged crime a little more difficult.

A couple of weeks ago, the docket disappeared. The first time I asked the Air Force about it, I was told it was working just fine for them so it must be my computer. It wasn’t.

A security setting has made the database impossible to see unless you access it from a military network. The rest of us are out of luck.

Last week, the Air Force said it is working on getting the docket accessible again. As of this afternoon, it’s still not working.

The Air Force has offered to look up any case I am interested in. But the fact is I often don’t know there is a case at all until it’s listed in the court-martial schedule.

In the meantime, other services – the Navy in particular – are striving toward greater transparency in their judicial systems. In July, the service released the results of each court-martial and special court-martial from January to June – 135 in all. Although it included all crimes, the Navy said it was an effort to curb sexual assault, and the service plans to publish the information regularly.

“This department is committed to using all available resources to prevent this crime, aggressively investigate allegations and prosecute as appropriate,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a statement announcing the changes. “We will not hide from this challenge — we will be active, open and transparent.”

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