29 June 2009

Congressman seeks to cut the time on processing disabled VA claims

Rep. George K. Butterfield (D-NC) introduced legislation which addresses the backlog of disability claims filed with the Department of Veterans Affairs. HR 3087, which can be found here on Thomas, was introduced on Friday. Rep. Butterfield's press release can be found here. According to statistics there are over 900,000 backlogged claims with the VA. Butterfield believes that decisions on disability claims should be made with 180 days of filing the claim. Under Butterfield's legislation claims not processed within 18 months would be automatically granted.

Butterfiled is a U.S. Army veteran and represents North Carolina's 1st district. Prior to being elected to Congress in 2004 he was an attorney and also served as both a trial judge and on the North Carolina Supreme Court.

If you would like to support this legislation by contacting your local federal representative, you can go to Congress.org here to take action on this bill.

A down under shout out of "goodonya" to Rep. Butterfield! Good looking out for America's disabled veterans . . . they certainly deserve a fair go with less governmental red tape of waiting years to get what they deserve in the first place.

U.S. Army makes battlefield promotions official policy

The Army Times reports here that the U.S. Army has made a pilot program of permitting battlefield promotions of staff sergeants (E-6) and below permanent policy. The other U.S. armed services do not permit battlefield promotions. Such promotions were common in World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

The lack of battlefield promotions for the other services raises a question about equal treatment between the services especially so in joint operations. Those enlisted Air Force-Coast Guard-Marine Corps-Navy servicemembers serving in joint operations with Army enlisted should be given equal battlefield promotion opportunities. Is it time for a Department of Defense policy addressing battlefield promotions for joint operations?

26 June 2009

Senate committee finishes markup of 2010 U.S. defense budget

Today the Senate Armed Services Committee completed its markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2010. SASC issued a press release which can be found here. Unfortunately, the bill is not yet available on Thomas. But according to the press release, there is a host of improvements for military personnel contained in this NDAA which include increases in pay and bonuses, health care, the establishment of a task force to review programs that assist recovering wounded servicemembers, and a joint Department of Veterans Affairs-Department of Navy health facility in Chicago. The most interesting thing in this press release is a provision that would give the Defense Department IG oversight authority on the Navy's policies and procedures in post-trial review of courts-martial (I'm guessing this has a lot to do with the Sgt. Foster case.) A report of SASC's roll call votes on the markup can be found here. The NDAA now moves to the full Senate for consideration after Congress returns from its 4th of July recess.

24 June 2009

House approves dodgy bill to temporarily increase disabled servicemembers' retiree pay

Yesterday Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) who is the chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, introduced the Disabled Military Retiree Relief Act of 2009, HR 2990. The bill, which is available on Thomas, can be found here. The full House also passed the bill by voice vote of 404-0. Skelton's press release can be found here. Those American servicemembers shy of 20 years service and who are disabled would be able to draw full retirement pay over a five year period. There is an estimated 121,000 veterans receiving disability retirement pay.

President Barack Obama had proposed this as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2010. President Obama's proposal can be found here. The Office of Budget and Management also issued a statement yesterday, which can be found here, concerning the House bill for NDAA FY 2010, HR 2647.

It appears HR 2990 is quite dodgy in that only those with disabilities rated 90 percent or higher would receive their full retirement benefits. Notwithstanding, but on 1 October 2010 the extra payments would cease altogether. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) issued a press release which can be found here. Wilson has criticized the bill as a "ghost of the proposal submitted by President Obama." The bill's name is deceiving because the majority of the $968 (USD) million does not even deal with military benefits but that of retirement and sick pay for federal civilian workers - only $228 (USD) million deals with veterans and the rest is for federal civilian employees.

Come on Congress, you can do much better for our disabled servicemember retirees than this dodgy bill. Granted, the bill is a start, but it's still dodgy.

23 June 2009

House Democrats ask Commander-in-Chief to halt gay discharges

Yesterday Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives wrote a letter to President Barack Obama requesting that he consider halting discharges under Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The letter can be found here.

VA now accepting applications for post-9/11 GI bill

Today the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced it will be accepting applications for processing of the post-9/11 GI bill. The VA announcement can be found here. Application forms may be found here. The U.S. Department of Defense's policy on the post-9/11 GI bill can be downloaded here. Although former servicemembers convicted by court-martial with a sentence including the forfeiture of benefits are typically not eligible for GI bill benefits after their discharge despite the fact the servicemember may have fully paid into the GI bill.

Bill would provide civilian mariners with immunity in the injury or death of pirates

Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) introduced legislation last Friday to grant immunity to civilian mariners who "wound or kill" pirates during an attack. HR 2984, the United States Mariner and Vessel Protection Act of 2009 which can be found here would also increase the U.S. Coast Guard's role in providing defense to American-flagged ships in known pirate waters. The bill has three Republican cosponsors: Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC), Rep. John Mica (R-Fl) and Rep. Don Young (R-Ak). Rep. LoBiondo issued a press release here. HR 2984 has been referred to both the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the House Committee on Homeland Security.

18 June 2009

Is different spanks for different ranks a thing of the past in the United States?

Yesterday an active duty U.S. Coast Guard Captain (O-6) was convicted at a general court-martial of one specification of wrongful use of cocaine in violation of Uniform Code of Military Justice article 112a reports Military.com here. (Seems like mainstream media has yet to pick up this story.) The court-martial sentenced the O-6 to a fine of $5,000 (USD) and a written reprimand.

Perhaps the old saying "different spanks for different ranks" is a thing of the past or is this one of those extremely rare occurrences? Anyone who has served in America's military knows that usually the ranks of 0-5 and above are rarely prosecuted or are disciplined; rather the senior officer is permitted to retire quietly with no disciplinary action after serious criminal wrongdoing has been discovered whilst the enlisted personnel or very junior officers are hammered.

17 June 2009

U.S. House Committee approves two military voting bills

Last week, in a markup session, the full House Administration Committee approved two bills that are designed to protect the voting rights for absentee servicemembers and their families. The Universal Right to Vote Act, HR 1604 and the Absentee Ballot Track, Receive and Confirm Act, HR 2510, both introduced by Rep. Susan A. Davis (D-Calif.) were the bills favorably passed by the committee. Rep. Davis chairs the Subcommittee on Military Personnel of the House Armed Services Committee.

HR 1604 would prohibit states from imposing additional condition such as requiring a notary signature to accompany a mail-in ballot. 28 states have adopted universal mail-in procedures for their voters.

HR 2510 would reimburse states for the cost of establishing a program to track and confirm receipt of absentee ballots for federal elections.

In May the Subcommittee on Elections of the House Administrative Committee held a hearing titled "Military and Overseas Voting: Obstacles and Potential Solutions." Three of the witnesses at that hearing were from the Department of Defense. Here is a link to the subcommittee's webpage on that hearing.

Rep. Davis issued a press release on the committee's passage of the bills which can be found here.

Skipper of HMS Bulwark bans the sprouts

This story is strange and funny; when I was perusing today's online edition of the Sydney Morning Herald, I read "Navy Captain bans Brussels sprouts as 'devil's vegetable'" Apparently the skipper of the HMS Bulwark doesn't like the vegetable so he banned it for his crew of 390 sailors. Now when I was a kid I hated Brussels sprouts. But as an adult, steam them al dente, put loads of garlic, butter and a hint of parmesan cheese and they are delicious. I did have a good laugh reading the article. Although I think it must have been a slow news day for the SMH.

16 June 2009

U.S. House Veterans' Affairs subcommittee holds hearing on bungled medical procedures

Today the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans' Affairs held a hearing on heaps of bungled endoscopy procedures at Dept of Veterans' Affairs medical facilities across the nation. There were two panels of witnesses appearing before the subcommittee. Here is a link to the Committee's website where opening statements of the witnesses can be found. And here is a link to the recorded webcast of today's hearing.

Problems with the medical procedure date back as far as 2003. Earlier this year the VA began notifying patients in three states: Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. The errors which appear to be systemic were discovered in January of this year and stem from a failure to properly train medical personnel and follow correct guidelines. In certain cases medical personnel were not properly cleaning equipment between procedures and possibly contaminating other sterile components as well as patients. Those who underwent the procedure, which are approximately 10,000, have been advised to get blood tests for hepatitis and HIV.

Six veterans have already tested positive for HIV, 13 have tested positive for hepatitis B and 34 are positive for hepatitis C. But there is no way to conclusively prove the infections were from the faulty medical procedures. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki appologized to the House subcommittee and said that disciplinary action would be taken against staff.

NIMJ President makes statement supporting HR 569

Today National Institute of Military Justice President Eugene Fidell made a statement to the Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy of the House Judiciary Committee supporting the Equal Justice for Our Military Act of 2009, HR 569. Mr. Fidell's statement can be found here.

I totally agree with Mr. Fidell's suggestion that the bill be renamed. Earlier this year I had suggested to lawmakers that during an upcoming markup (amendments to the bill are expected) that it be renamed in honor of Captain Kevin J. Barry, USCG (Ret.) who passed away back in April. Both Chief Judge Robinson O. Everett and Capt Barry supported the legislation. I've previously discussed their passing and the support they both gave on Supreme Court access for troops here and here.

With the unfortunate passing of Judge Everett last week, I've now suggested to lawmakers that the bill be renamed the "Barry Everett Military Justice Act of 2009."

Military judge orders newspaper reporter to testify at court-martial

Today the San Diego Union Tribune reports here that a military judge has denied UT reporter Rick Rogers' motion to quash a military subpoena to testify at the court-martial of U.S. Marine Corps Private Gary Maziarz. Navy Commander Kevin O'Neil, who is the military judge in the case, issued the ruling on 12 June 2009 which indicated that the servicemember's right to a fair trial outweighs any claims that Rogers may have under the First Amendment. The military judge's ruling can be found here. Lawyers for the UT have not yet decided whether to appeal CDR O'Neil's ruling.

14 June 2009

Cox Commission II will be webcasted live

The Cox Commission II will be webcasted live at 0900 on Tuesday, 16 June 2009 (US Eastern Time). The link to the webcast is here.

The National Institute for Military Justice's website has a web page dedicated to the Cox Commission II which can be found here.

13 June 2009

Remembering Judge Robinson Everett

The News and Observer reports here that Senior Judge Robinson O. Everett passed away at the age of 81 yesterday. Judge Everett was a most remarkable man. CAAFlog also reports here on his passing as well as the University of North Carolina here.

I had the pleasure of first meeting Judge Everett six years ago at a code committee meeting. Over the years I continued to see him at other code committee meetings and the annual Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces Judicial Conference at Catholic University. He was a regular fixture. Judge Everett was always gracious in conversation and open to discussing military justice reform ever so passionately. Through the last six years we had many email exchanges and telephone conversations regarding various versions of the Equal Justice for Our Military Act bills and other reforms. One year Judge Everett openly spoke up about Supreme Court access for servicemembers at a code committee meeting which was reported here. His passing is a tremendous loss to the military justice community.

12 June 2009

Aussie David Hicks' US military attorney promoted and made military judge; Far contrast to Charlie Swift

ABC reports here that U.S. Marine Corps officer and judge advocate Michael Mori has been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and appointed as a military judge. Mori had been appointed to defend Australian David Hicks in military commission proceedings brought by the United States.

Mori's promotion and elevation to a military judge is a far contrast from what occurred to retired U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Charlie Swift, Judge Advocate General Corps. Swift won a Supreme Court case on behalf of his client against the United States and was then passed over for promotion to Commander and forced to retire from the Navy. Perhaps a little vindictiveness on the part of the Bush administration? Back in March 2007 Vanity Fair ran an article about Swift here.

The climate in Washington, DC must have changed with the Obama administration. I'm glad that Mori was promoted because he is an exceptional Marine and attorney. However, it's a darn shame what happened to Swift because he was an exceptional sailor and attorney. Swift's forced retirement was a great loss to the Navy and the JAG Corps. Both Mori and Swift are indeed outstanding attorneys; one was given a "fair go" and the other wasn't.

11 June 2009

House Judiciary subcommittee considers Supreme Court access for servicemembers

[Updated from earlier post.] Today Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), chairman of the House Judiciary's Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy held a hearing on the Equal Justice for Our Military Act of 2009, HR 569. The bill would grant all servicemembers who are eligible to petition the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces the right to petition the Supreme Court to review a court-martial conviction. Currently over 80 percent of all convicted court-martial servicemembers are precluded from ever filing a petition for direct review with the Supreme Court.

Rep. Susan A. Davis (D-Calif.) who is the chief sponsor of the bill and chairs the House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel testified. Rep. Davis' opening statement can be found here. Retired Army Major General John Altenburg, Jr., a former Deputy Army Judge Advocate General testified in opposition of the bill. MG Altenburg's opening statement is here. Dwight Sullivan, a civilian appellate defense counsel for the Air Force and a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, testified in his personal capacity in support of the bill. Mr. Sullivan's opening statement is here.

The Air Force-Army-Marine Corps-Navy Times publications have run articles in each of their online newspapers. The Navy Times article can be found here. But the military publications articles are factually inaccurate concerning cost estimates on high court appeals should HR 569 be passed. Mr. Sullivan, referring to the Air Force Times article (which is identical to the Navy Times article), points this out on CAAFlog in a comment he made today at 1301 here. "The Air Force Times gets a key fact horribly wrong. The article says that estimates of the cost of the bill range from $30,000 to $1 million PER CASE. The $30,000 estimate was the cost of the bill to the entire U.S. goverment for a year, not per case. It's simply preposterous to suggest that the cost to the U.S. goverment of litigating a Supreme Court case is $1 million. In fact, the entire monetary cost to the U.S. goverment for one cert petition is around $1,000," said Mr. Sullivan.

During the hearing MG Altenburg conceded that if HR 569 was passed it would not hinder nor threaten good order and discipline in the military like some have suggested. The Obama administration did not make the Department of Defense's witness, Army Brigadier General Malinda Dunn, available for the hearing. BG Dunn was expected to testify in opposition of the bill. Both Chairman Johnson and Ranking Member Howard Coble (R-S.C.) expressed concern that the administration hadn't provided anyone to testify and explain why DoD opposes the bill. However, sources in the Obama administration have informed me that after the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Justice looked at the issue the administration is now taking a different position than that of the Bush administration. The Obama administration is not going to oppose equal access to the Supreme Court for members of America's military. In past Congresses the Bush administration had opposed similar bills with then-DoD General Counsel William Haynes, II and then-Principal Deputy Daniel Dell'Orto leading the charge in opposition.

Rep. Davis has issued a press release which can be found here. At some point in the very near future the webcast of today's hearing will become available on the House Judiciary's website. When it becomes available this post will be updated. The Courts subcommittee should issue its report on the hearing before Congress' summer recess.

CAAFlog also provides hearing highlights here.

10 June 2009

Witness list for hearing on HR 569 has been updated

The Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy of the House Judiciary has updated the witness list for tomorrow's hearing on HR 569.

Panel I

Hon. Susan Davis

Panel II

Dwight Sullivan

Major General John Altenburg, Jr., U.S. Army (Ret.)

When the hearing was rescheduled from last Friday to this week there was a scheduling conflict with American Bar Association President H. Thomas Wells, Jr. It is unclear why Army Brigadier General Malinda Dunn has been removed from the witness list. I've heard unsubstantiated rumors that the Obama administration is not going to oppose the bill. The updated witness list can be found here.

To review each witness' opening statement click on their name above and a link will bring you to a pdf copy of the statement.

The hearing will begin shortly after 1000 tomorrow (immediately following a markup session on another bill). It can be viewed live via webcast here. (1000 US Eastern Time, 11 June.)

09 June 2009

U.S. Navy JAG sets aside a general court-martial conviction

The National Institute of Military Justice reports here that U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Bruce MacDonald has taken the extremely rare step of setting aside a 2002 general court-martial conviction in the case of Lieutenant Roger House. House had been convicted, contrary to his pleas, of conspiracy to make a false statement, conduct unbecoming an officer, and false swearing. A petition for a new trial was filed by House based upon newly discovered evidence. NIMJ's link to the Navy JAG's examination pursuant to UCMJ article 73 can be found here.

It should be noted that it took a judge from the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, in a suit brought by House under the Tucker Act, to intervene before the Navy actually took action on the petition for a new trial

08 June 2009

U.S. military courts have jurisdiction to correct their own errors

[UPDATED from earlier post.] The Supreme Court of the United States today held 5-4 in United States v. Denedo that military courts have jurisdiction to consider, and correct, their own errors after a court-martial is final. The United States had argued that military courts no longer had jurisdiction to consider fundamental errors once a case became final under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. But the majority rejected the government's contention. The opinion can be found here. Denedo's case has been previously discussed on this blog here.

CAAFlog's Dwight Sullivan gives his analysis of the Denedo decision in a three part series found here, here and here. Mr. Sullvian also provides some initial thoughts on the ramifications of Denedo which can be found here. SCOTUSblog gives an opinion recap here.

Back in June of 2008 I wrote commentary in the Legal Times calling Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces Judge Margaret Ryan's dissent well reasoned. That commentary can be found here. After careful thought, I did not believe under the current language of the law that military courts had the jurisdiction to review a case that was final absent directly challenging the actual jurisdiction of the court-martial itself (i.e. there was a fatal jurisdictional defect in the creation of the court-martial not known at the time it was convened). However, I believed that a legislative fix was warranted to provide ex-servicemembers like Denedo an avenue for redress and have argued to give the military boards of correction back their jurisdiction by repealing 10 U.S.C. 1552(f). I think for situations like Denedo's the military courts should not be used to redress such grievances because the court-martial is final and the ex-servicemember is no longer in the military.

The U.S. Department of Defense may try to lobby Congress to shut the door that the Supreme Court has now opened to ex-servicemembers. If Congress, by statute, closes off military courts to error coram nobis proceedings where the case is final under the UCMJ, I strongly believe that Congress should provide another avenue for redress. I don't believe that an ex-servicemember should be left in the lurch in situations like Denedo's case. Assuming arguendo that Congress shuts the door, I still believe that a military appellate court would (and should) have jurisdiction to vacate a court-martial that was improperly convened in the first instance without regard to whether the case is final or not (that was not the situation in Denedo's case).

Supreme Court rejects hearing Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Today the Supreme Court of the United States rejected hearing a case from 12 American veterans who challenged the constitutionality of the Clinton-era Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. U.S. Army Captain James Pietrangelo II, an openly gay man, and 11 other veterans were dismissed under the DADT but the high court declined to hear their appeal. The case is Pietrangelo v. Gates, 08-824.

Australia has permitted openly gay troops in its ranks since 1992 with no problems. Other countries that allow gay citizens to serve in their military include Argentina, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Romania, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.

Australia Queen's birthday honour list (military division) now available.

Today in celebrating the birthday of Her Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, Governor General Quentin Bryce, AC, has released the names of those on the honours award's list. The new members in the Military Division of the Order of Australia can be found here; those awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the Military Division can be found here; those awarded the Medal for Gallantry and Distinguished Service Cross can be found here and here.

The entire list of this year's honourees, which includes civilians honoured in specific areas, can be found here. Information about the Order of Australia can be found here.

07 June 2009

NY civilian court taking too long to prosecute suspected DWI soldiers

Yesterday the Watertown Daily Times reports here that Fort Drum in New York will now prosecute its own soldiers, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, for suspected drunk driving off base. Army Major General Michael Oates stated that the civilian courts in Jefferson County were taking too long to prosecute the cases and he wants to see them concluded more quickly. But Jefferson County District Attorney Cindy Intschert indicated that she's not interested in divesting the state's jurisdiction to prosecute suspected soldiers of DWI. The DA is now going to open dialogue with Army officials at Fort Drum concerning this issue.

Army newspaper seeking out American soldiers who were deployed with a medical condition

Deputy news editor of the Army Times, Tony Lombardo, is seeking out U.S. Army soldiers who were deployed even though the soldier may have suffered a serious medical condition reports the Times here. Those who have been deployed with a medical condition can email Lombardo directly.

Navy Times introduces new blog

The Navy Times has introduced a new blog: Scoopdeck, which can be found here.

04 June 2009

Senator Faulkner named new Defence Minister

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has just named Senator John Faulkner (ALP-NSW) as the new Minister for Defence. Faulkner's biography can be found here. Previously he served in the cabinet of former PM Paul Keating as Minister for Veterans Affairs and Minister for Defence Science and Personnel. Faulkner brings a wealth of experience to the defence's top job on issues affecting ADF enlisted and officer personnel given his previous defence portfolios. He was first elected to the Senate in 1989 from the state of New South Wales following the retirement of Senator Arthur Gietzelt. Considered a progressive member of Parliament, Faulkner supported recent sweeping reforms to Australia's military justice system which did away with the courts-martial system in favour of the Australian Military Court.

Congressional subcommittee witnesses announced for servicemembers' Supreme Court access bill; hearing rescheduled

[UPDATED from earlier post.] The Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy of the House Judiciary Committee has just rescheduled tomorrow's hearing on the Equal Justice for Our Military Act of 2009, HR 569 to Thursday 11 June 2009. Earlier today the witness list was made public. The witness are:

Panel I

Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Military Personnel, House Armed Services Committee. Rep. Davis is the chief sponsor of the bill and as such will testify in support of it.

Panel II

Major General John Altenburg, Jr., U.S. Army (Retired). MG Altenburg was the U.S. Army Deputy Judge Advocate General from 1997 - 2001. Most recently he served as the appointing authority for military commissions. It is believed that MG Altenburg will testify in opposition of the bill.

Brigadier General Malinda Dunn, U.S. Army
, Assistant Judge Advocate General of the Army for Military Law and Operations. It is believed that BG Dunn will testify in opposition of the bill.

(In past Congresses two Army veterans also opposed similar bills: Daniel Dell'Orto and William Haynes II. Conversely, there is a long list of Navy and Marine Corps veterans -- including flag and general officers and senior enlisted -- that support the bill. I'm now beginning to feel like I'm at an Army-Navy football game.)

Dwight Sullivan in his personal capacity. For background purposes only: Mr. Sullivan is a senior civilian defense attorney for the U.S. Air Force and a Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. He has previously served as chief defense counsel for the military commissions office. Mr. Sullivan's testimony will be in his personal capacity only and not as a representative for any government entity. Mr. Sullivan will testify in support of the bill.

H. Thomas Wells, Jr., President of the American Bar Association. Mr. Wells will be testifying in support of the bill. In 2006 the ABA passed a resolution calling on Congress to fix the long standing inequity in American law and give servicemembers equal access to the high court. The ABA resolution can be found here.

The witness list can also be found on the House Judiciary's website here. On the day of the hearing the opening statements of the witnesses will become available. Just click on the name of the witness to retrieve a pdf that witness' opening testimony.

[Note: The author of this post has been a long time advocate for the legislation and has actively lobbied for its passage.]

Australia Defence Minister resigns

Today Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon (ALP - Hunter, NSW) resigned reports the Sydney Morning Herald here. In recent months Fizgibbon has been plagued with an array of issues including payroll problems with Australia's special forces. Fitzgibbon discussed the payroll problems in March with Australian Broadcasting Corp. Radio National's Fran Kelly. The transcript can be found here.

03 June 2009

Rep. Howard Berman signs on as a cosponsor to HR 569

Yesterday Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif) signed onto the Equal Justice for Our Military Act of 2009, HR 569 as a cosponsor. Thomas lists Berman's name here. This brings the total to 19 cosponsors. Berman is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and also a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Notably the bill now has several House Congressional leaders as cosponsors. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Rep. Bob Brady (D-Penn.) chairman of House Administration Committee are all cosponsors. With Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Berman signing on there are now four of the 19 cosponsors who hold chairmanships of one of the 20 standing House committees. In other words, almost one quarter of chairs of House standing committees support HR 569. And it doesn't stop there. Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Penn.) a second term Congressman, retired active duty Navy vice admiral (aka three star admiral) and vice chair of the House Committee on Small Business is a cosponsor. Sestak is the highest ranking military veteran presently serving in either house of Congress. Two of the bills cosponsors are co-chairs to the Congressional Progressive Caucus: Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Az.) and Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.).

No GOP lawmakers have signed onto the House bill as cosponsors in this Congress.

01 June 2009

Fairness of American military justice system questioned in the case of a Marine who has autism

Today the San Diego Union-Tribune report's here that the U.S. Marine Corps is now investigating how a man with autism who is facing a court-martial was originally allowed into the Marine Corps. After graduating boot camp and during infantry training the man was charged with an unauthorized absence and possession of child pornography. The defense raised a motion to challenge the court-martial's jurisdiction on the grounds that the court-martial lacked jurisdiction due to the accused lacking mental competency to sign his enlistment contract. Two years prior to the man's enlistement, in 2006 a California judge had issued an order in a limited conservatorship proceeding that the man was "developmentally disabled" and not able to provide for his personal needs. But the motion to dismiss was denied and the man remains confined at the Marine Corps brig at Camp Pendleton.