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Closed US Military Courts Shield Extent of Child Sex Abuse

© Flickr / Ren RebadomiaChildren
Children - Sputnik International
Child sex offenders are the largest category of inmates in US military prisons, a damning Associated Press investigation has revealed. Yet, full disclosure of their crimes and sentencing is denied by the closed system of American military justice.

Of the 1,233 inmates confined in the military's prison network, 61 percent were convicted of sex crimes.

The shocking revelations are made all the worse by the fact the US Defense Department does not make it easy for the public to learn about child sex cases.

The visibility, and therefore accountability, into military trials in the US is minimal. Court records are released only after many Freedom of Information Act requests, appeals and often months of prevaricating. While military trials are technically "open", they take place on military bases, which are closed to the public.

David Clohessy is the director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a support group for survivors of clergy sexual abuse. He said the Associated Press' findings show a disturbing rate of child sex crimes and secrecy in the US military:

"Governmental officials must be more open about sexual violence in the military. It's just that simple. Otherwise, the safety of children and adults will be jeopardized. And public support for the armed services will be hurt."

Asked why there was such a high number of inmates behind bars for sex crimes against children, Defense Department officials said juries view these crimes as particularly horrifying, and so prosecutions are more likely.

They also claim that military prosecutors pursue verdicts more rigorously than their civilian counterparts, and the confinement numbers reflect that commitment.

Air Force Col Chuck Killion, director of the Air Force judiciary, said that since 2008, the Air Force has secured convictions in 199 out of 223 child sexual assault cases.

"It's not as if there are child sex crimes being swept under the rug somewhere. We simply don't do that."

However, there are clearly discrepancies between what the military tell the public, and what happens in the trials, some of which were laid bare after the investigation.

One summary of a court-martial released by the Marine Corps reads:

"At a General Court-Martial at Okinawa, Japan, Chief Warrant Officer 4 D. E. DeSmit was convicted by a military judge alone of conspiracy to commit sexual assault and rape of children, aggravated sexual abuse of a child, sexual abuse of a child, and possession of child pornography. The military judge sentenced the accused to 144 years of confinement, a reprimand, and dismissal."

However, after the Associated Press demanded more information, it found the most significant detail missing from the Marine Corps' brief public summary was the pre-trial agreement. DeSmit had struck a deal with the military, according to court records. He pleaded guilty to 18 counts, including conspiracy to commit rape of a child. His prison sentence was limited to 20 years, not 144 as the Marine Corps had publicly stated.

DeSmit is one of dozens such cases.

However, Washington has paid little attention to child sex assaults in the military, preferring to focus on adult abuse.

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