Editor’s Note: This Article appeared for the first time in Chronicle of the Indiana Capital.
A proposal to remove Indiana National Guard members’ powers to refuse extrajudicial punishment and request a court-martial has sparked outrage among some veterans, though leaders of the guards say it will ensure good order and discipline.
The controversy has led to the American Legion of Indiana withdrawing from the Big Four — a coalition of veteran service organizations that usually work together.
“The decision to leave was not easy for us; The Indiana Legion believes that all voices within the Big 4 should be heard and given an opportunity to vote on our position before testifying before committees,” the Legion said in an email. “This was not the case, and because we believe it is important to represent all Hoosier veterans and active-duty members, we have decided to part ways.”
The Big Four include the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, and the National Guard Association of Indiana, collectively representing 135,000 Hoosier veterans.
Now there are no military trials
The twin House and Senate legislation would make three changes to the state’s military justice system — only one of which is controversial.
House Bill 1076 and Senate Bill 279 would allow the leader of the Guard, Adjutant General and Major General Dale Lyles, to convene trials in military courts, also known as courts-martial. They are usually reserved for more serious suspected offences.
For now, only Gov. Eric Holcomb has the right to call courts-martial – but Lyles told lawmakers at a hearing on Tuesday that Holcomb hasn’t called one for at least the past three years.
And Lyles acknowledged that there had been cases during that time that should have been court-martialed. Col. Tim Baldwin, a judge’s attorney with the Watch, said the organization removed four people from its ranks over the past year on allegations of sexual assault.
But administrative divisions don’t go into permanent records. Court-martial convictions do.
The provision expanding convening powers had near-universal public support. But not a second one.
The Indiana National Guard uses non-judicial penalties for minor offenses. The commanders notify the guard members involved, examine the evidence presented, and decide whether the members committed the alleged offences.
However, members also have the right to request a court-martial after notification. Commanders cannot refuse these requests – they can only forward requests further up the chain of command.
The bills would eliminate that right.
And in turn, Guard leaders said the bills would prevent commanders from jailing members as part of extrajudicial punishments.
Lyles argued that these provisions “allow for the expeditious application of non-judicial punishment in cases of minor offences”.
“The main theme of this bill is efficiency,” said Judy King of Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“Others may say that this bill takes away due process rights,” she said. “I do not agree. This draft law allows processing at all levels.”
King stressed that guard members will be briefed on the process, have access to free legal counsel or hire their own attorneys, provide evidence and appeal the findings.
But opponents of the law argue that commanders are not independent arbiters like a judge in a court-martial would be.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that our men and women who volunteer in volunteer work are deprived of due process rights [Indiana] National Guard,” said Lisa Wilken, an Air Force veteran and board member of the Indiana Veterans Support Council. “What it’s actually doing is taking away their right to tell the government, ‘Prove it.'”
“Everyone has an opinion,” Richard Caldwell, a representative of American veterans on the Indiana Veterans Affairs Commission, told the Capital Chronicle. Caldwell said that during his 32-year career he served at a court-martial in Iraq and oversaw numerous extrajudicial sentences.
“I was involved in one [non-judicial punishment] where the commander couldn’t stand the kid,” he said. “He was a young kid, didn’t have great parental guidance. He just always got into trouble. And the commander didn’t like him. He wanted to throw the book at him.”
Caldwell said he advocated a less severe punishment for rehabilitation, but concluded, “Not every commander likes everyone.”
Baldwin repressed the idea that commanders cannot be fair.
“To say that these commanders have already made up their minds is offensive to the organization I belong to,” he said at a hearing last week in response to an opponent’s argument that the proposal would make members “guilty pending proof.” would be innocent.”
Supporters and critics of the bill both said the current system of the watch, which makes it difficult to convene a court-martial, is not working. But they had different views on the proposed solutions.
“In practice, these soldiers know when they refuse [non-judicial punishment] and request a court-martial that we will not court-martial them,” Baldwin, the sentry judge’s attorney, said at a House hearing last week. He stressed the time and cost involved.
“So they either get almost nothing – a warning letter – or we go into a separation process and they’re out [Indiana] National Guard,” added Baldwin.
Army Veteran Renee Pack, D-Indianapolis, called the status quo a “systems problem” during Monday’s third reading of House Bill 1076. She had previously offered an unsuccessful amendment to remove the court-martial proposal.
“We have our enlisted Guardsmen who are paying the price for this systems problem and losing their rights because of a systems problem,” she told lawmakers. “And I still stand to say that it’s not fair — it’s not right — to the men and women who have volunteered not only to help and defend this state, but to defend this country.” .”
“Government inefficiency should not be an excuse for exaggeration,” she added in an impassioned speech.
House legislation passed mostly along party lines Monday, 74-24. It will now be submitted to the Senate for consideration.
His Senate twin, 279, was knocked out of committee 6-2 on Tuesday. However, some Republicans expressed reservations about the court-martial proposal, despite voting yes.
Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, said he wanted to see the bill back out of committee, but wanted some concerns “addressed.”
Sen. Blake Doriot, R-Goshen, also said he voted yes to “move this forward” but said “I’ll look for answers.”
Leslie Bonilla Muniz graduated from Northwestern University in March 2021 and has reported for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and student publications in Evanston, Illinois, Washington, DC and Doha, Qatar.