May 27 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force tried to cover up racial bias in its justice system, a report by an independent advocacy group said Wednesday.
The 25-page report was issued by Protect Our Defenders, a Virginia-based group with a self-described mission of "ending the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the military and to combating a culture of pervasive misogyny, sexual harassment, and retribution against victims."
Using the Freedom of Information Act and a prior report portraying racial disparities in the military justice system, it said that an Air Force working group failed to meet regularly and offer only superficial recommendations in fixing a perceived racial bias.
"The Air Force has engaged in a multi-year effort to keep the findings and recommendations of its working group hidden, forcing POD to file suit in federal court," a statement on Wednesday said. "A U.S. District Court in Connecticut referred to the Air Force's investigation as a 'mystery,' questioned whether it conducted any 'real governmental decision making process,' and accused it of trying to change its story and 'plug gaps' over time."
It cited a slide in a 2017 presentation to Air Force headquarters, which said, "the data reflects a persistent and consistent racial disparity" in the Air Force justice system. Another slide said African American airmen of the E-2 rank, the lowest in the Air Force, are disciplined at double the rate of other demographics.
That slide added, "If this were the case for airmen that were female, versus male, we were would have concerns about what is making the difference, and investigate -- we clearly must address this disparity in the same way."
The Air Force has done nothing to solve the problem, POD president Don Christensen, a former Air Force colonel and former Air Force chief prosecutor, said.
"Instead, the Air Force dedicated time and effort to cover up its failure to act on any solutions," Christensen said. "All service members must have faith that they are treated equally when facing punishment. The Air Force has utterly failed to do that."
In a statement by Lt. Col. Ann Stefanek, the Air Force acknowledged that it is working on a long-standing problem.
"While we have taken steps to elevate unconscious bias training at all levels of our command structure, we have more work to do to identify and remove barriers that stand in the way of our people's success," she said.