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Senator Gillibrand (D-NY), in support of S.967 — Military Justice Improvement Act — is working to persuade Congress and the Department of Defense to remove a commander’s authority to change convictions after a court martial has found the defendant(s) guilty. The bill addresses rape and sexual abuse, as well as other serious crimes. In some recent cases (in Aviano, Italy for example), commanders have overturned convictions even in cases of rape. Both male and female commanders in all branches of the military have been found to have reversed or altered sentences of the courts martial.
Chain of command is not the system in which to address rape/sexual abuse cases; it’s too easy for commanders to find themselves in deep conflicts of interest.
Our two Senators Warner and Kaine have not signed onto this bill as co-sponsors.
The senator’s aides tell me that they are waiting for a reconciliation with Senator McCaskill’s bill. That bill does not remove the commander’s authority. Senator Warner has voiced an opinion that removing this one power would interfere with command authority structure. This is the same reasoning that the military used while testifying before the Senate. I, personally, can disagree with this logic because I was an Air Force brat and an Army JAG wife. (The JAG Corps are the lawyers and judges for the military.) Removing this power from commanders would help to insure that guilty parties are punished, and that personal relationships and cronyism do not influence justice. This neutrality would protect a commander’s authority with their troops by allowing the commander to support all of her or his subordinates in the maintenance of good order and discipline.
NOW asks Virginians to participate in an action to help military women and men who are sexually assaulted to finally get justice. Military women and men are entitled to full legal protection.
Please call or e-mail Senators Warner and Kaine to ask them to co-sponsor Senator Gillibrand’s bill, S967.
If you call, and are not comfortable talking to an aide, leave a voice mail. E-mail if that is easiest for you, but take action.
I’ve listed the senator’s contact information, and some talking points which you can use to persuade the senators to co-sponsor the bill. If you feel inspired, you can also use the talking points to write a letter to the editor of your local paper.
- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act (S.967) places sexual assault cases, and other serious crimes punishable by one year or more, outside the victim’s chain of command and in the hands of a trained military prosecutor.
- Sexual assault has become an epidemic in the U.S. By the military’s own estimates, about 26,000 sexual assaults occurred throughout all branches of the armed forces in 2012 alone – a 35 percent increase over 2011. However, only 3,374 assaults were reported in 2012, and only 300 were prosecuted.
- Currently, victims must report sexual assault to their commanders, who lack specialized training to deal with sexual trauma, and who often have relationships with the perpetrators. Commanders routinely downplay sexual assaults, retaliate agains victims, protect perpetrators and have even reversed jury convictions after a case has gone all the way to trial.
- In 2012, 47 percent of sexual assault survivors who did not report the crime named fear of retaliation as the reason. Sixty-two percent of women who did report said they later experienced some form of retaliation.
- Under S. 967, victims would report to an independent military prosecutor who is trained in sexual trauma and has no personal or professional relationship with the accused or accuser.
- Military brass oppose S.967 on the grounds that commanders need complete authority to maintain good order and discipline in the ranks. But in fact, the current system undermines “good order and discipline in the ranks” because it puts decision making power in the hands of commanders who are untrained and often tainted by personal conflicts of interest, leaving victims without justice and perpetrators free to rape again and again, thus undermining a commander’s moral authority and perceived trustworthiness.
My thanks for your action to protect our military women and men,
Diana Egozcue, President
The Virginia Chapter of the National Organization for Women