WASHINGTON – Siding with the Pentagon’s top brass, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved legislation Wednesday to keep commanders involved in deciding whether to prosecute sexual assault cases, rejecting an aggressive plan to stem sex-related crimes in the armed forces by overhauling the military justice system.
By a vote of 17-9, the committee passed a bill crafted by its chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., designed to increase pressure on senior commanders to prosecute sexual assault cases by requiring a top-level review if they fail to do so. Levin’s proposal also makes it a crime to retaliate against victims who report a sexual assault and also calls on the Pentagon to relieve commanders who fail to create a climate receptive for victims.
The committee rebuffed a proposal in a bill by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to remove commanders from the process of deciding whether serious crimes, including sexual misconduct cases, go to trial. That judgment would have rested instead with seasoned trial lawyers who have prosecutorial experience and hold the rank of colonel or above.
The committee also rejected a provision of Gillibrand’s bill that would have taken away a commander’s authority to convene a court-martial by giving that responsibility to new and separate offices outside a victim’s chain of command.