Does the military have the power to seize its service members' personal data and reprimand them for crimes based on no further evidence? That's the question that's being asked by two congressmen to the Air Force, who recently disciplined four pilots whose text messages to each other apparently upset superiors. In addition to the troubling lack of due process, it is also believed that the context of the text messages were deeply misconstrued by investigators and the chain of command.
As The Daily Beast reports, an unrelated Air Force investigation last summer yielded text messages from four Laughlin Air Force base pilots that immediately caused alarm. The Air Force claims that their references to "molly" and pill-taking not only proves that the pilots were taking drugs, but may also have been distributing them. The pilots are adamant, however, that the language used in the text messages only contained ironic references and inside jokes between friends and that no inappropriate activity of any kind ever took place.
Daily Beast's look at the records strongly supports the pilots' assertions. The language used in the messages is easily traced back to popular hip hop and pop songs, television show quotes, and even some humorous twitter hashtags. While one of the pilots was able to appeal the Air Force's punishment and return to active duty, the other three have been assigned desk jobs while they wait for an appeal—and lose valuable flight time and experience.
LACK OF DUE PROCESS
Congressmen Duncan Hunter and Adam Kinzinger, both military veterans, are now pressuring the Air Force to explain how four well-regarded pilots were punished when there was so little evidence of any wrongdoing. In all four cases, the pilots were not granted courts-martial, but instead received letters of reprimand. These letters of reprimand, handed down by command, are reserved for when there is a "preponderance of evidence." Furthermore, it is unclear whether or not the Air Force had the authority to seize the text messages in the first place.
The four pilots are said to have admitted that the texts were inappropriate, but staunchly deny that any criminal behavior ever occurred. As it stands, the disciplinary action against them not only keeps the pilots grounded, but unlikely to qualify for commercial flight jobs, as well. Still, they are hopeful for a successful appeal to clear the matter up once and for all. "I can’t imagine a scenario in which a group of Air Force officers would be texting about engaging in criminal acts if that’s what they actually had done," one of the pilots had wrote his commanding officer during the text message investigation. "Maybe I’m naive in this regard, but it makes no sense to me."
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