Smoother Course for GI Justice
Featured in Stars and Stripes in an article from the 1970s was our firm's co-founder, Terry Bennett, from his time working in the military as an attorney for the United States Army. Stars and Stripes provides independent news and information to the U.S. military community, including active-duty servicemembers, DoD civilians, veterans, contractors, and their families. Unique among Department of Defense-authorized news outlets, Stars and Stripes is governed by the principles of the First Amendment. They have published a newspaper continuously since World War II, and their unique military coverage first became available online in 1999. Today, Stars and Stripes operates as a multimedia news organization.
In layman's lingo, he's the circuit riding judge advocate. In Army language, he's the inferior courts officer assigned to the 8th U.S. Army Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) office. Whatever title, Capt. Raymond Terry Bennett travels throughout the Republic of Korea, working to remove the military justice system's hang-ups.
When Bennett arrived in Korea in February, the 8th Army and U.S. Army Korea Support Command (KORSCOM) SJA's were concerned with the training of legal clerks, the processing time of cases, and the coordination between unit commanders and their legal services. To alleviate the problems, Bennett was given the job of visiting most of the 21 inferior court convening authorities located throughout KORSCOM and advising the commanders, legal officers, and legal clerks on legal questions.
A major factor causing communication problems is that practically all cases outside the 2nd Inf. Div. are tried at Yongsan, a centralized location where most SJA personnel are stationed, while military personnel involved are located throughout Korea.
A case begins with the company commander, who decides if someone under his command should be court-martialed. The company commander recommends to his battalion commander that the man be tried by either a summary, special, or general court-martial. The battalion commander then recommends to his immediate superior, group, command, or brigade commander what action should be taken. Only the group, command, or brigade commander, and, in special circumstances, a battalion commander, who is the special court-martial convening authority, can convene a special court-martial. If the brigade commander wants a general court-martial, he must make a recommendation to a commanding general who is a general court-martial convening authority.
The court-martial convening authorities have courts and board sections that make sure correct procedures are followed in processing a case. Bennett visits these convening authorities and assists the courts and boards section clerks and hopefully gives the convening authority commander in a geographical area a feeling of contact with the SJA offices in Yongsan and Taegu. Bennett feels it is extremely important to process cases as rapidly as possible.
"At any one time, there are approximately 50 men in pretrial confinement at the U.S. Army Confinement Facility, ASCOM, Korea. Since military personnel have no right to bail, it is important that these accused receive a speedy trial,” Bennett said. "CO's should be very interested in speeding up the processing time. Sometimes a company CO's unit discipline problems are centered around one or two people. The sooner the proper disciplinary action can be taken against these individuals, the sooner the unit's discipline problems will be alleviated,' Bennett said.
Bennett sees providing legal clerks with greater training and experience as a means to faster processing. Of the 20 legal clerks in KORSCOM, only six have the Army legal clerk occupational specialty. "By the time a case begins with the company CO and works its way up the chain of command to a court-martial convening authority at the special court-martial level, a lot of paperwork is involved. If the paperwork is incorrect, lengthy delays in processing a case can result," said the Wake Forest University College of Law graduate.
"I travel throughout the KOR- SCOM jurisdiction to the various convening authorities and talk with their legal clerks and assist them with any questions of procedure they might have. In some cases, my assistance may be little more than giving a clerk telephone numbers he may call to obtain accurate information quickly or passing out legal handbooks on Uniform Code of Military Justice administration," the captain said.
One of Bennett's primary goals is to improve communications between unit commanders and the SJA Office. "Hopefully, as a result of my travels, communications have been improved between unit commanders and the SJA Office so that when a commander has a legal question, he will call us, and when we tell him a man hasn't committed a triable offense or he has insufficient evidence to charge a man with an offense, the CO will listen to us, Bennett said. "We also discuss the basic Manual for Courts-Martial requirement that offenses be disposed of by Article 15, UCMJ non-judicial punishment whenever this is appropriate and possible."
"Sometimes CO's charge individuals who have committed triable offenses with the wrong offense. This delays the processing of the case and may result in the individual going undisciplined. A call to the SJA could prevent this," said Bennett. "Commanders should view the military legal system as an aid in seeing that correct procedures are followed and justice done rather than an obstacle to overcome in solving unit discipline problems," Bennett said.
There is still a shortage of trained legal clerks in Korea. Paperwork mistakes and incorrect procedures by convening authorities and commanders delay the processing of some cases, and there may be some communication problems, but through Bennett's travels, the 8th Army and KORSCOM SJA's are working to alleviate these problems.