WASHINGTON -- The Army must do more in assuring equal and fair treatment of service members in the military justice system, the Army’s top uniformed attorney told lawmakers Tuesday afternoon.
Lt. Gen. Charles Pede, the Army judge advocate general, has directed a “comprehensive assessment,” together with Maj. Gen. Kevin Vereen, the Army’s provost marshal general, to examine racial disparity within the Army’s justice system.
Pede joined three other military leaders representing all of the services during a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on military personnel, which addressed racial disparity among troops who face prosecution, investigation or courts martial.
Groundwork for the Army’s assessment began last week. “We're in the very early stages of figuring out what can cause [racial disparities],” Pede said. “So we're developing a framework.”
During the hearing, lawmakers cited a 2019 U.S. Government Accountability Office report that showed black service members were more likely to face courts martial and more likely to be the subject of investigations. It also revealed that the Army and other service branches did not have consistent data collection standards across DoD regarding race and ethnicity. Lawmakers said they will continue to press the issue as civil rights protests continue in cities nationwide.
“This report raises difficult questions -- questions that demand answers,” Pede said. “Sitting here today, we do not have those answers. So our task is to ask the right questions and find the answers.”
Pede said that he has worked with the provost marshal general, to link data between the service’s law-enforcement database and the JAG Corps database to improve system interoperability – a critical step to provide more accurate information concerning the investigation and prosecution of Soldiers based on race.
“General Vereen and I, along with Army leaders, need to look hard at ourselves,” Pede said. “With commanders, we must look at the cause and we must understand how preconceptions and prejudice can affect both the investigation and disposition of misconduct.”
Pede said the Army currently does not keep individual records of commanders and how they administer non-judicial punishment. However, he added that the comprehensive assessment will closely examine how commanders dispense punishment and how law enforcement officers react in a scene of domestic violence, for example.
“I have great faith in our commanders to administer justice fairly and dispassionately, especially at the senior levels,” Pede said. “I believe the answer is a set of cross checks and balances between law enforcement, commanders and lawyers looking at each other in the system and keeping each other honest.”
The committee also discussed the racial disparity and minority representation within each branch. In 2018, racial minorities accounted for about 32% of the active-duty Army; that includes black Soldiers making up nearly 24% of enlisted members. However, the disparity between black and white officers remained wide as African-Americans comprised just 12% of active-duty officers.
This week Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper consulted with military leaders from each branch to find solutions to assure equal opportunities and representation within the military’s ranks.
Army leaders, including Lt. Gen. Thomas Seamands, deputy chief of staff for personnel, G-1, have said that the Army has strove to increase diversity in the force among minorities and females.