“What goes on in the military, stays in the military”. At least, this is the unspoken motto held by the people in the Defense Department. Particularly when it comes to military sexual assault charges.
In fact, the Pentagon would go as far as to actually misled Congress about how they are handling military sexual assault charges.
Three years ago, one of the highest-ranking military officials in the U.S., Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr., who was the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs at the time, spoke about 93 military sex assault cases in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In his report, he said that in all of these cases, civilian prosecutors “refused” to take part and so commanders stepped in.
Winnefeld, who retired from military service last year, said to the committee:
“I worry that if we turn this over to somebody else, whether it is a civilian DA or a nonentity in the military, that they are going to make the same kind of decisions that those civilian prosecutors made. I worry that we are going to have fewer prosecutions if we take it outside the chain of command.” (Yahoo! News)
However, according to the Washington Post, this didn’t hold up in further investigation by the non-profit “Protect Our Defenders.” The story was completely different in roughly two-thirds of the cases cited by Winnefeld and Defense Department. The Associated Press also came to the same conclusion after investigating the results.
It was discovered that in most cases the civilian prosecutors did not decline to prosecute. Contrary to Winnefeld’s report, it was actually the military who failed to prosecute these cases.
One of the strongest voices for changing the way the Pentagon deals with military sexual assault charges is Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). She and her office reviewed 329 sex assault cases and concluded that:
“Despite recent Congressional reforms, dysfunction in the military justice system remains and sexual assault is still pervasive.” (Post Star)
It wasn’t easy for her office to gain access to this information as Gillibrand was challenged every step of the way. Even then, much of the information was omitted in the reports.
Now Gillibrand is calling on President Obama to use his power as the Commander in Chief and address military sexual assault charges. During a recent press conference, she voiced her frustration with the inactivity of the White House regarding this matter and said:
“I’ve spoken to the president directly about this issue and what I’m frustrated about is he is the Commander in Chief. So he could change this rule all by himself.” (ABC News)
In 2013, Sen. Gillibrand introduced a bill which would remove commanders from prosecuting sexual assault cases. Since then, the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) has won support of 50 senators at least, but failed to meet the necessary quota of 60 votes needed for a filibuster twice, says Yahoo! News.
Three years ago, Senator Rand Paul joined Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, providing some much needed conservative support for her bill.
Paul’s spokesperson Moira Bagley said at the time:
“Senator Paul believes that the vast majority of our service members are honorable and upstanding individuals. In the instance when one is accused of a serious crime, especially one of harassment or assault, the allegation needs to be taken seriously and conflicts of interest should not impact whether a crime is prosecuted properly.” (Politico)
Gillibrand and Paul were also joined in this bill by Senators Ted Cruz, Barbara Boxer and Chuck Grassley.
How do you think military sexual assault charges should be handled? Should this be left to the military or to a civilian court? Please give your comments and questions in the comment section below and don’t forget to follow us for more news on Rand Paul on our Facebook and Twitter pages.
(Photo courtesy of MarineCorps NewYork, Flickr CC BY 2.0)
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