Prominent Republicans join fight to remove sex assault cases from chain of command
SAN DIEGO — Republican Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have joined a bipartisan group of more than 30 senators in support of a bill that would remove the authority to prosecute serious crimes in the military, including sexual assault, from the chain of command.
“Justice is very important to me, both for the accused and for the victim,” Paul said at a Tuesday press conference at the Capitol. “Everybody says they’re against sexual assault… why don’t we fix it?”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, proposed the bill after talking to several military victims of sexual assault.
“We all know that our military is home to the best and the brightest in the world,” she said, but a small number of criminals are “undermining good order and discipline.”
Gillibrand said one of the issues that must to be addressed to fix the problem is that many victims do not report sexual assaults. The reason for the low percentage of reports, she said, is that many victims fear retaliation or believe nothing will happen to the attacker.
“Our only hope is that by making the system more objective … they will have hope and confidence” in reporting, she said.
Cruz said he was persuaded to support the bill by Gillibrand’s passion about the issue, and said he also believes having the reporting and prosecution of sexual assaults within the chain of command is deterring victims from reporting.
“There can be no prosecution, there can be no deterrence, if we have no reporting of crimes,” he said.
The bill would change the Uniform Code of Military Justice to require an O-6 or higher — outside of the accused’s and the alleged victim’s chain of command — to determine whether to move forward with a court-martial in offenses that could result in more than a year of jail time. Those officers would be specially trained prosecutors, Gillibrand said.
However, military-specific offenses such as fraudulent enlistment, unauthorized absence, malingering and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman would remain within the chain of command. The bill would not affect commanders’ ability to impose nonjudicial punishment.
There were 3,374 sexual assaults involving at least one servicemember reported in fiscal 2012, though the Department of Defense estimates the number of actual assaults was closer to 26,000. On Monday, the DOD inspector general released a report that said more than 10 percent of military sexual assault investigations in 2010 had “serious deficiencies,” including collecting evidence and conducting interviews.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in May that military leaders have “in many ways, failed” on stopping sexual assault in the military and called for change.
Still, officers have resisted removing court-martial convening authority from the chain of command, saying such a move would undermine good order and discipline.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., noted that every secretary of defense since Dick Cheney in 1992 has pledged “zero tolerance” of sexual assault in the military.
“It’s enough with the words. It’s enough with the empty promises. It’s time for some real change,” Boxer said.