*coauthored by Liz Ullman
It is true that our forefathers set out to create a juridical system that blindly judged the accused in a manner that afforded them the opportunity to receive a fair trial, regardless of political affiliation and standing in civil society. The unspoken story, however, is that race, class, and gender and other social constructs do matter, and justice is not always what it purports. The latest Guard Recruiting Assistance Program (G-RAP) scandal shows that our system of law, order and punishment is more about flexing Army muscle than actual justice. And it is costly, destroying lives and careers; and it is a monumental waste of taxpayer money.
G-RAP was the National Guard Recruiting Assistance Program from 2005-2012 and soldiers were financially incentivized to find new recruits, and they were called Recruiting Assistants (RAs). Years after those RAs helped rebuild the Guard to full strength. Their participation was challenged by Army officials who reported that G-RAP was marred by a possible $100 million worth of fraud and soldiers were to blame. Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) is examining all 106,000 RAs who participated. For men and women connected with the program, simply being investigated by CID puts their military career on hold, their security clearance in jeopardy, their benefits suspended and undermines any possibility of advancement. For veterans of the Guard, investigations mean harassment, possible bankruptcy and an overwhelming knowledge of how the government they swore to defend can betray them in an instant.
CID's investigations have resulted in hundreds of indictments. Many of those indicted hinge on memory--whether or not a recruit remembers the name of the G-RAP RA, who was paid for his or her enlistment. If that recruit cannot summon the RA's name, after as many as ten years have passed, the RA is likely to be charged with a felony.
Most soldiers incriminated for their participation in G-RAP cannot afford adequate legal representation. And yet, most make just enough that they do not qualify for a public defender. Without adequate counsel, these service members are given ultimatums that leave them powerless. Meanwhile, they are bullied by Army Criminal Investigative Division (CID) Agents-- interviewed without a lawyer (and the statements are later used as evidence against them), given inaccurate statements by supposed witnesses, and urged to take polygraphs. In the end, most soldiers are pushed to take plea bargains offered by the prosecution to give CID a quick victory and take the case off the public defender's plate.
Regardless of what road they take, this system places a hefty burden on the accused. Individuals that choose to stand firm and fight the case all the way to the courtroom to on a significant risk. The risk is with a jury who has little knowledge of the tangled web of the circumstances. Even with solid evidence, the gamble involves how well the attorney can present the complexity of G-RAP and the military culture where soldiers are trained to follow orders from their superiors, doing precisely what they are told. The legal challenge requires a specialist, an attorney who grasps the magnitude and murkiness of G-RAP. This lawyer must also be conversant in the world of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and US laws and regulations. When a G-RAP defendant gambles and loses, the results are catastrophic, including the loss of any military benefits and retirement, difficulty obtaining a decent job with a felony record, and a likely prison sentence.
If the defendant has the means to hire an attorney, good counsel cost around $500-800/hr. The average case will cost between $30,000-50,000 before it ever goes to court. Just to prepare for trial requires a burdensome amount of cash before the judge has even heard the opening argument. Because of the convolution of G-RAP, it takes hours of painstaking work to sift through witness statements, understand and learn the G-RAP training manuals, conduct counter-interviews, meet with district attorneys and everything in between needed to prove one's innocence. The final cost of a trial can extend upwards of $100,000, resources that most Americans, let alone soldiers, do not have.
CID examines former RAs for just participating in G-RAP. And that individual will pay one way or another regardless the outcome. Those who win at trial will receive no money back for legal fees, troubles or lost wages. If that individual is in the military, being found innocent does not hold sway with command. Even the innocent have been strong-armed, separated from the Guard, lost retirement and educational benefits, and face an uncertain future.
CID has boasted the indictments on various local and national websites such as armytimes.com, starsandstripes.com. That's a permanent digital record of the accused's name. When individuals beat the rap, there is no effort made by either CID or the news sources to report on the finding of innocence. Instead, the individual now has a digital stamp of guilt that exists forever. Even if charges are dismissed, they will remain on a permanent record that will appear to any future employer. The aphorism "innocent until proven guilty" has little meaning in the lives of the G-RAP accused. These legal entanglements can lead to future loss of employment and a lifetime of difficult explanations.
So what does all this pain and hardship cost the government and taxpayer?
Take the all-too-common instance of a former RA accused of wrongfully enlisting one prospective soldier, and thereby "stealing" $2,000 from the US government. CID agents on official government military orders cost an estimated $10 million dollars a year. The average cost to replace a soldier is upwards of $400,000 for non-specialized troops. Agents have been on orders for no fewer than four years, which means our taxpayers are spending some $40 million. Imagine 1,000 individuals processed criminally for their participation in the program. That would mean the cost to investigate each crime is roughly $40,000. Then let's say that person goes to trial. The CID is determining who should be brought to trial, and the prosecution is simply lock-step in agreement, assuming the federal government has done the appropriate due diligence. The cost for a five-day trial is about $5,000, and the preceding does not include the cost of all the meetings, possibly a public defender or any pre-trials and/or appeals. If this person is found guilty and sent to prison, it costs an average of $35,000/year to house an inmate in federal prison in the U.S.
When much of the evidence surrounding these former RAs relies on whether or not the enlistee remembers the RA, from six to ten years prior this is an unimaginable amount of wasted precious resources pursuing somebody for possibly breaking an ambiguous rule. And it is the Army CID that decided that breaking the rules was tantamount to a federal crime.
Convicted or innocent, former RAs who are still in the Guard will likely face official reprimands and separation from service. That soldier will have to be replaced by the US military. As mentioned prior, the average cost to replace a soldier can exceed $400,000 for non-specialized troops. The cost of spending is over $600,000 of tax payer dollars for each $2,000 that was allegedly stolen, from a program that was deemed to be flawed, mismanaged and inherently obscure by the US Army's own leadership.
In the end, everyone pays because of CID's and the US Army leadership's decision to prosecute and slander innocent soldiers.
Please watch 60 Minutes on Sunday, May 22nd for more information. For the press if you would like an interview, please reach me at email@example.com