Even the U.S. military, possessed with so many brave, self-sacrificing individuals, has not been immune from a handful of its recruits perpetrating some very awful cases of cruelty. In recent years, authorities charged a U.S. Marine couple living at Camp Pendleton in California with shattering their dog’s legs and binding his mouth with rubber bands for days. In Fort Bragg, North Carolina, law enforcement charged a soldier, who had a history of domestic violence, with slitting the throats of two dogs and then dumping their bodies in trash bags. In another well-publicized case in El Paso, Texas, a Fort Bliss soldier and his wife adopted two dogs and just two weeks later, one dog was dead and the other―a puppy―had suffered a broken leg that hardly seemed accidental.
The soldiers were charged with animal cruelty by the local sheriffs’ offices but had these offenses happened on a military base anywhere in the world, there would have been no action taken against them because U.S. state cruelty laws cannot be applied internationally.
Recently, President Obama signed an executive order closing this loophole in our anti-cruelty laws. The new provision under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) will now apply anywhere in the world where the military is stationed and will be on a par with states’ animal cruelty statutes. Violations will be separated by “abuse, neglect, or abandonment of an animal” and “bestiality.” The maximum punishment will include bad conduct discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and jail time ranging from up to one year to up to five years, depending upon the offense.
This is a significant advance from the prior circumstance when animal abuse was classed under a general provision with other “disorders and neglects” to be addressed with a general, special, or summary court-martial, according to the nature and degree of the offense. The HSUS’s Sherry Ramsey worked diligently for five years to see this new policy adopted. We’re also grateful to Representative Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., for leading a letter cosigned by a bipartisan group of 13 of his colleagues, urging the Administration to amend the UCMJ to include the specific crime of animal cruelty.
The FBI recently started to track animal cruelty crimes in its National Incident Based Reporting System, and it’s good to see the military join the movement within the federal government to treat animal cruelty with the seriousness that it deserves. This reflects a now widespread recognition about the close link between animal cruelty and violence toward humans.
We also hope that the adoption of the UCMJ provision will provide Congress with an additional reason to close other existing loopholes in our federal government, by passing the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (S. 2293/H.R. 1831) pending in Congress.
The PACT Act would empower the FBI and U.S. Attorneys to prosecute animal abuse cases that occur in interstate commerce or on federal property, and it’s a common-sense piece of legislation. There’s no meaningful opposition to it, and a raft of support. It would be an easy matter to take this up in the lame duck session of Congress and do something good for the country, delivering a blow to the worst offenders of animals everywhere.