Reporters Committee finds barriers to accessing military court dockets and proceedings

Press Release | August 15, 2008
Reporters Committee finds barriers to accessing military court dockets and proceedings

The public has a slim chance of discovering the existence of criminal hearings and trials conducted by U.S. armed forces around the world, according to a yearlong study of military justice practices by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The Reporters Committee investigated access granted to the public and the press for military criminal proceedings and accompanying records. Interviews with reporters, lawyers, military personnel and experts on the armed services yielded examples of important criminal cases that went unreported because the government refused to provide the public with a comprehensive record of Article 32 pre-trial hearings and courts-martial.

“The right to a fair and public trial is a bedrock principle of democracy,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. “Unfortunately, in this regard, members of the armed services have fewer rights than those granted to criminal defendants in civilian courts.

“We believe that, at a minimum, the armed services should create an easily accessible ‘docket’ of information listing those charged, details regarding the charges against them and the date and time of their trials and pre-trials,” Dalglish said.

The Reporters Committee analysis also used survey data from researchers at the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

The study showed:

  • 45 percent (34 bases) refused to provide any information for upcoming Article 32 hearings

  • 37 percent (28 bases) declined to disclose courts-martial schedules.

  • Just 27 percent (20 bases) provided a complete docket for upcoming Article 32 hearings

  • Just 36 percent (27 bases) provided a complete docket for upcoming courts-martial schedules.

  • Just more than 20 percent of the base officials who agreed to provide docketing information for Article 32 hearings and courts-martial nevertheless withheld basic details such as the defendant’s name or the criminal charge at issue.

The Reporters Committee’s investigation of the problems encountered by military reporters and its legal analysis of how the Pentagon is falling short on protecting the rights of those in uniform to a public trial can be found at: www.rcfp.org/militarydockets.

Supplementary information, including “Off Base,” a guide to this issue intended for reporters, and the Tully Center report are also available.