[Viewpoint] And justice for all

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[Viewpoint] And justice for all

Contrary to popular belief among the Korean public, United States military personnel, regardless of rank, are subject to harsh punishment for violations of Korean laws.

To the Korean public, the idea that American soldiers never get in trouble for misdeeds in Korea is almost universally believed.

The oft-repeated narrative goes something like this: “American Soldier commits horrible crime, is arrested by the Korean police, but after only a few hours at a police station, he is whisked away by the American Military Police because he is protected by the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement), and will likely face light punishment at the hands of the American military justice system.”

This is, in fact, a fiction. Much like the civilian legal system in the United States, the U.S. Army’s Uniform Code Military Justice (UCMJ) is slow, methodical and embraces the precept of due process. Seldom is this mentioned in reports by Yonhap News Agency or on MBC about U.S. soldier-on-Korean violence, which, sad to say, does occur.

Often the justice that awaits U.S. military personnel for violations of Korean law is harsher than that accorded to Koreans. In addition to prison sentences and fines, soldiers face reductions in rank, ruined careers, displacement to new units (often far from family and friends) and the real possibility of a dishonorable discharge - something that makes attaining respectable civilian employment in the United States very difficult.

Where is this information? It has been conveniently provided by United States Forces Korea (USFK) on their homepage, www.usfk.mil.

Or type into Google “USFK Court Martial Results” and view them on rokdrop.com. You can read the full names of the offenders, the crimes they committed and the sentences handed down by United States military tribunals as well as Korean courts.

Here are some representative, recent cases from the USFK Web page:

“In Seoul Central District Court on 29 March 2012, SPC Andrew M. Forton, 551st ICTC, USAG-Daegu (Carroll), was convicted of violations of the Act on the Control of Narcotics. His sentence was imprisonment for 2 years and 6 months, not suspended, and he was ordered to pay a civil assessment of 9,200,000 won ($8,130).”

“In Seoul Central District Court on 18 January 2012, CPT Douglas Mayes, II, HHC, 1/38th FA, USAG-Casey, was convicted of violations of the Road Traffic Law and refusal to take a breath test. He was fined 5,000,000 won.”

Upon completion of any Korean jail sentence, or the paying of a fine, both of these men will then face the United States Army’s Uniform Code of Military Justice. The former will likely face further prison time at an American military prison while the latter will be left picking up the wreckage of a ruined military career.

To the credit of the USFK, American soldiers are constantly being reminded by their leadership that they must respect Korean laws or face the UCMJ and the Korean legal system.

Just recently General Thurman, commander of United States Forces Korea, urged American soldiers to either respect Korean law or leave. Seldom has a combatant commander been so blunt with his personnel regarding host nation laws.

Sensationalizing the crimes of the American military, as some media outlets enjoy doing, is not only unethical, but undermines the alliance between the United States and Korea.

The USFK has done an admirable job of maintaining command and control over its personnel through a steady stream of safety briefings, curfew adjustments and cultural awareness sessions that remind personnel of the need to abide by Korean law. It is time for Korea’s mass media to recognize these efforts.

Through accurate reporting and follow-up stories that clearly indicate both the U.S. Army and the Korean courtroom results, the public might finally realize that the American military in South Korea does respect Korean law and that justice is served.

* The author, who previously served as a company commander for two years at United States Army Garrison-Yongsan in Seoul, is pursuing a Masters in international peace and security at Korea University Graduate School of International Studies.

by Brendan James Balestrieri
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