Pentagon Sets Up War Zone Justice Board to Review Cases

The Pentagon today formed a review board of lawyers and retired combat commanders to assess whether military justice was administered fairly, effectively, and credibly in cases against U.S. personnel in war zones since October 2001, officials said today.

The board will not re-litigate cases of U.S. military abuse, instead reviewing instances to see if the military justice system can be improved, Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson told reporters.

“We’ve had instances where we had to employ military justice, and we want to ask ourselves every once in a while if the system is working like it should,” Johnson said. “It’s not intended to provide legal advise to the department,” he said.

“It involves the application of military justice concerning offenses against civilians.” he said. Johnson said he doesn’t know how many cases would be reviewed. The size and scope of the board’s caseload have yet to be determined, he said.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a July 30 memo spelling out the board’s charter wrote that, although “bad things have happened involving combat excess and civilians” in deployed areas, the “abuses have been rare among our professional fighting force but they became huge flash points that threatened to undermine our entire mission.”

“Thus, for offenses that take place in a country in which we operate alongside the civilian population, it is critical that our system of military justice be efficient, fair, dependable and credible,” Panetta wrote.

The review should address issues such as “the manner in which alleged offenses are initially reported and investigated,” and “are there ways to ensure that alleged offenses are reported promptly,” according to Panetta’s memo.

The board will not review allegations or documented instances of detainee abuse and collateral damage from military weapons that accidentally killed civilians, Panetta said.

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