House panel backs Pentagon on assault cases
WASHINGTON – The Pentagon posted a narrow win Wednesday as a House panel endorsed leaving the authority to prosecute rapes and other serious crimes with military commanders.
In an emotionally charged debate, the House Armed Services Committee rejected a measure that would have stripped the long-standing authority to decide whether to pursue a case, especially those related to sexual assault, and hand the job to seasoned military lawyers. The vote was 34-28.
Pentagon leaders oppose the change in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, arguing that commanders should have more responsibility, not less, for the conduct of the men and women they lead in war and peacetime.
Opponents of the measure maintained that commanders must be held accountable, and that the military leadership was working to address the problem.
Last week, the Pentagon said reports by members of the military of sexual assaults jumped by an unprecedented 50 percent last year, in what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel declared a “clear threat” to both male and female service members’ lives and well-being.
Overall, there were 5,061 reports of sexual abuse filed in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, compared with 3,374 in 2012. About 10 percent of the 2013 reports involved incidents that occurred before the victims joined the military, up from just 4 percent in 2012.
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