Military brass, senators united against sexual assault but at odds on remedy (+video)
Top military leaders received a dressing down from lawmakers Tuesday for failing to curb sexual assault within the ranks. The brass, however, opposed changes to the military justice system.
Top military leaders who were called to Capitol Hill on Tuesday received a dressing down from lawmakers for their continued failure to curb the rising incidence of sexual assault within the ranks.Skip to next paragraph
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“I cannot overstate my disgust and disappointment over continued reports of sexual assault in our military. We’ve been talking about the issue for years,” Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona told the assembled officers.
He went on to recount an exchange he had Monday with a constituent who “said her daughter wanted to join the military, and [asked] could I give my unqualified support for her doing so. I could not.”
The senior officers for their part acknowledged that the sexual crimes have the potential to “destroy the very fabric of our force,” in the words of the Army chief of staff, Gen. Raymond Odierno.
But the universal condemnation of the crimes notwithstanding, the assembled military leaders and members of Congress were at odds over some legislation designed to confront sexual assault in the military.
The range of the proposed legislation is considerable: Seven bills introduced in March alone, co-sponsored by more than 40 senators.
A number of these bills focus on commanders’ authority to administer justice within the ranks, which some lawmakers charge is too often misused, either inadvertently or, from time to time, intentionally, to overturn sexual assault convictions. Commanders have also been criticized for failing to recognize unhealthy command climates that can make sexual assaults more likely to occur.
Among the points of legislation that appear to make the senior military commanders the most nervous are proposed changes to the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, the military’s legal system, to take some of these powers away from commanders.
This includes putting into place requirements that commanders who receive reports of sexual assault immediately submit them to criminal investigators, or the next higher officer in the chain of command.
Other bills would direct the Pentagon to remove the chain of command from deciding whether and how to proceed with a case.
While stressing that sexual assault “simply cannot be tolerated” and that in allowing them to continue has “violated the trust” of US troops, General Odierno also warned against changes to the military justice system.