Military sex assault bill stalls
WASHINGTON — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has secured public support from nearly half the Senate, but not enough votes, for her proposal to give victims of rape and sexual assault in the military an independent route outside the chain of command for prosecuting attackers.
Gillibrand's solution for a problem the military calls an epidemic appears to have stalled in the face of united opposition from the Pentagon's top echelon and its allies in Congress, including two female senators who are former prosecutors.
Opponents of the proposal by Gillibrand, D-N.Y., insist that commanders, not an outside military lawyer, must be accountable for meting out justice.
Even so, major changes are ahead for a decades-old military system just a few months after several high-profile cases infuriated Republicans and Democrats in a rapid chain of events by Washington standards.
“Sexual assault in the military is not new, but it has been allowed to fester,” Gillibrand said in a recent Senate speech.
The Senate this week is set to consider an annual defense policy bill that would strip commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions, require dishonorable discharge or dismissal for any individual convicted of sexual assault and establish a civilian review when a decision is made not to prosecute a case.
The bill would provide a special counsel for victims and eliminate the statute of limitations.
Those changes in military law are backed by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. But overshadowing the revisions is the testy, intense fight over Gillibrand's proposal to strip commanders of their authority to prosecute cases of sexual assault. She wants to hand responsibility to seasoned military lawyers outside the chain of command.
Her solution has divided the Senate, splitting Republicans and Democrats, men and women, even former attorneys general, into unusual coalitions. The lobbying has been fierce, with dueling data, testimonials and news conferences with victims. Opponents invited Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Loretta Reynolds to the closed-door Republican caucus last week.
Among Gillibrand's 47 announced supporters are conservative Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., along with 16 of the Senate's 20 women.
Standing against the plan is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.; the panel's military veterans, John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., and three of the committee's women — Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., both former prosecutors, and Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb.
Gillibrand says she privately has received backing from more than 50 senators, but support remains short of the filibuster-proof 60 votes that likely will be needed for her amendment to the defense bill. To secure more votes, she said last week she was considering scaling back her plan to focus solely on sexual assault and rape instead of all serious crimes. That prompted complaints from her original backers that it would create “pink courts,” and Gillibrand said on ABC's “This Week” Sunday she was reverting to her initial bill.
Either way, it hasn't diminished the opposition.
“There (are) now enough members of the Senate that begin to grasp that letting commanders walk away from this is a big mistake; holding their feet to the fire is what we need to be doing,” McCaskill said. She said in an interview that, unlike Gillibrand, she wasn't changing “the policy to get votes.”
McCaskill said the Pentagon has moved unilaterally, reflected in the recent word from the Defense Department that reports of sexual assaults in the military increased by an unprecedented 46 percent during the last budget year. There were 3,553 sexual assault complaints from October 2012 through June, compared with 2,434 reports during the same period the previous year.
Defense Department officials cast the sharp increase as a sign that people are more confident about coming forward now that improvements are being made in handling assaults.
Gillibrand offers a different figure — 26,000.
That was the Pentagon's estimate of the number of military members who may have been sexually assaulted last year, based on an anonymous survey of military personnel.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Police: 3 killed, 9 wounded in attack at Colorado Planned Parenthood
- Plasma burp seen in star’s destruction by black hole
- Chicago retail district targeted by protesters
- Floods claim lives in Texas
- Man accused of jumping White House fence left suicide note, authorities say
- FBI to begin tracking animal cruelty cases
- American held captive in Cuba for 5 years expected quick release
- Washington project ensures long-term carbon storage
- Obama pledges support for France against ISIS, wary of role for Russia
- Military Academy bans pillow fights; 30 hurt during last one
- Democrats face long odds in battle for lost congressional seats