Article 134 - Obstructing Justice
Paragraph 96 of the Manual for Court Martial deals with obstructing justice.
The text of statute of Article 134 says that all neglects and disorders
which are adverse to the discipline and good order in the armed forces,
all conducts that can bring discredit to the armed forces and offenses
and crimes not capital, can be punished by convening a court martial.
This provision forbids service members from interfering in the administration
of military justice for the entire time a criminal investigation is being
conducted and not only during judicial proceedings awaiting decisions.
Obstruction of justice also includes hindering criminal proceedings and
investigations in foreign lands.
Elements of the offense
- The accused has wrongfully committed a certain act.
- The accused did so for an individual against whom, the accused knew, criminal
cases were pending or would be initiated soon.
- The accused committed the act with the intention of impeding, obstructing
or otherwise influencing the administration of military justice.
- In these circumstances, the accused's conduct was adverse to the discipline
and good order in the armed forces or the nature of the act brought discredit
to the armed forces.
Explanation for the elements
The offense (obstruction of justice) can be based on an act of the accused
before the 'preferral' of charges. If a suspected crime is discovered
and after investigations have been completed, the proper authorities may
direct the 'preferral' or filing of charges against the accused.
It can be compared to civilian indictments. Criminal proceedings also
include non-judicial punishments.
Examples for obstructing justice are wrongfully influencing, impeding,
injuring or intimidating a witness; who is acting on charges against an
individual, or an officer who is investigating an act of the individual,
or any party; and preventing or delaying the transfer of information concerning
a violation of a criminal statute to a person who is authorized by an
agency, armed force or a department, by resorting to bribery, misrepresentation,
intimidation, or force of a threat to use force.
Maximum punishment for the offense
The maximum punishment that can be levied on a service member who is held
guilty of obstructing justice is a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture
of allowances and pay and 5 years of confinement.
Example to show how a service member may be charged with the offense
In 2007, the leader of a kill-team in Iraq, taking part in counterinsurgency
operations in Diyala province was charged with the murder of two unarmed
Iraqi teenagers who turned out to be deaf. The children were cattle herders
and they were driving their head towards the soldiers who were in hiding.
The rest of the unit did not see the boys as a threat, but the accused
stood up from his hiding place and shot the boys. A third boy, a cousin
of the first two, who was bringing the boys their lunch was also killed
by the accused and his men in a similar fashion. It turned out that the
third boy was also deaf.
Recently, the service member was charged with pre-mediated murder and obstruction
of justice; the latter for lying to his superiors about the incident and
for directing his colleagues to do the same, so that the crime could be
covered up. Military investigators, who had originally reviewed the case
back when the crime was committed, had recommended that the soldier be
charged with committing murder, but it never progressed to a Article 32 hearing.
If a service member pressurizes another service member, who is also a witness
in a case, not to testify before a military court, it can amount to obstructing
justice and the accused can be charged with the offense. This happened
in United States V. Stombaugh, where an officer testified that certain
members affiliated to the Junior Officers Protection Association were
putting pressure on him not to testify in the case.