World Bulletin/News Desk
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has directed a panel of experts to assess whether reforms are needed in the way the military justice system handles crimes committed by U.S. forces against civilians in combat zones, the Pentagon said on Friday.
While the Pentagon said the decision was not linked to any specific case, it follows a spate of incidents in Afghanistan that have outraged the local population, including one in which a soldier is suspected of killing 16 villagers in a shooting rampage.
"There is no one case that motivates this," said Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon's top lawyer, who explained Panetta's decision to undertake the review.
"We've now been in deployed areas for over 10 years," he said. "We want to ask ourselves every once in a while: Is the system working like it should? Are there reforms that could be brought about to better apply military justice in deployed areas when the offense involves civilians?"
Panetta asked a subcommittee of the newly established Defense Legal Policy Board to review cases over the past decade in which U.S. forces committed crimes against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan to see whether judicial procedures need to be improved.
"Abuses have been rare among our professional fighting force, but they became huge flash points that threatened to undermine our entire mission and the foundation of our relationship with the host government and its people," Panetta said in a memorandum to the Pentagon leadership.
"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," he added.
The review is expected to look into cases like the Haditha massacre in Iraq, where Marines killed 24 civilians. Of the eight Marines originally charged in the case, only one was found guilty -- of dereliction of duty.
Cases like the one against Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, who is accused in the slayings of 16 Afghan civilians earlier this year, may not factor into the investigation. Panetta's instructions call for the panel not to "intrude upon any pending case or investigation."
The review panel will be led by former top Pentagon lawyer Judith Miller and retired Major General Walter Huffman, a former Army judge advocate general. While largely made up of lawyers, the panel also includes retired military commanders and a former police criminal investigator.
The group is expected to deliver a report within seven months to the Defense Legal Policy Board, which will review the findings before passing them to the defense secretary.
Panetta asked for the review to include an assessment of whether alleged offenses against civilians are reported and investigated promptly and accurately, and whether there are ways to improve cooperation with local law enforcement.
He also asked for an assessment of whether the military justice system should be revised to improve handling of cases involving multiple defendants, and whether there were enough investigative resources in combat areas to ensure a timely response to criminal allegations.
Panetta asked the panel to confine its review to cases in which U.S. military service members were accused of committing crimes against civilians.
Offenses against detainees in prison or against service members attacked by fellow troopers were not meant to be part of the review, Johnson said.
"Speaking for myself, I'm prepared to be told by this group that for the most part the application of military justice is working well, or that here are some improvements that could be made, perhaps drawing from the civilian criminal justice system," Johnson said.
Tunisians are expected to cast ballots in the elections inside Tunisia on Sunday. Around 5.2 million Tunisians, including 360,000 living outside the country, have the right to vote in the elections
458 candidates, including 97 women, find their way to provincial council seats; IEC Chairman blames delay in announcing results to technical problems
The United Nations General Assembly adopts resolution granting observer status to the Developing-Eight, or D-8.
The Palestinian youths pelted Israeli troops with stones and empty bottles, but the troops responded by firing teargas and birdshot, wounding ten Palestinians and making dozens of others experience temporary asphyxiation
More than 36 million citizens are set to vote and choose among 29 political parties in Sunday's early general election.
Qatar has renounced deporting Muslim Brothers leaders, Egyptian media reported.
Ismail Radwan said that the new round of indirect negotiations will start on Monday in Cairo as scheduled
A Kurdish intelligence officer in Zumar said peshmerga forces had advanced from five directions in the early morning after coalition air strikes on ISIL positions
Soldiers exchanged heavy fire with the militants, whose exact affiliation was unclear, and had surrounded them by midday, security sources said
60 % of French prisoners are Muslims “originally or culturally” according to French deputy Guillaume Larrive
Colorectal cancer is the leading cancer in males followed by leukemia and prostate cancer, according to the registry.
"Egypt is fighting an existential war," al-Sisi said, going on to say that his country will take "measures" along border with the Gaza Strip following the attack
Human Rights Watch calls for prosecution of military involved in killing 85 Muslims in southern Thailand
Kurdish media claimed the first units tomorrow to across Turkey's border, but news on when the peshmerga will start their passage is denied
Hamas said that two members had been detained in Bethlehem and two others in Hebron late Friday.
Jabbari had been sentenced to death in accordance "qisas" (eye for an eye) law after being found guilty of stabbing dead an older man with a kitchen knife seven years ago.