Gillibrand-McCaskill debate on military sexual assault heats

Bloomberg News November 23, 2013


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The defense reauthorization bill is drawing more interest than usual, because this year it comes with a catfight — or so the press and the male cats in the Senate would have it.

The debate over amendments that would change how military sexual assaults are handled pits two allies on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., against each other.

At issue is how to improve the abominably low rate of reporting and prosecution of sexual assaults in the military. The Pentagon found that last year out of an estimated 26,000 sexual assaults, 3,300 were reported, and 302 prosecuted. In June, Army Secretary John McHugh testified that “we have failed” to deal properly with would-be victims of sexual assault. At the same hearing, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said, “if a perpetrator shows up at a court martial with a rack of ribbons and has four deployments and a Purple Heart, there is certainly the risk that we might be a little too forgiving of that particular crime.”

The defense reauthorization bill contains a lot of improvements to an awful situation, but Gillibrand and McCaskill have offered competing solutions to a central problem. The proposals have divided the two powerhouses on the committee, so much so that the president is staying out of the fray, despite a plea from Gillibrand to show some leadership.

Gillibrand’s amendment has the advantage of simplicity. She would remove the reporting and prosecution from the chain of command entirely, and transfer it to a kind of super-judge advocate general that is independent of the command. Testimony of victims has shown that the commanders have blown it……..

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