Military Justice Improvement Act: Supportive Editorials

Editorials & OpEds in Support of the Military Justice Improvement Act

Washington Post OpEd by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, 5/26/16: The Pentagon deliberately misled Congress on sex assault cases. Do lawmakers care?

Last month, an independent investigation by the nonprofit group Protect Our Defenders, which was further investigated and substantiated by the Associated Press, found that two-thirds of the cases the Defense Department cited in the Senate hearing differed markedly from what was claimed. In a majority of cases, there was no sexual assault allegation to begin with, the military had failed to prosecute for sexual assault or civilian prosecutors did not decline to prosecute. After the news broke about the false testimony, the Defense Department told the AP that the information in the testimony came directly from military lawyers who had dealt with these cases.

This week, I called for another vote on my bill, the Military Justice Improvement Act, because the Senate held its previous votes under the influence of false and misleading information. Not only did the Defense Department skew the debate then by misleading Congress, but it continues to do so by telling Congress that sexual assault survivors’ faith in the system is increasing — despite its own statistics showing the opposite. Fewer victims this year were willing to put their names on reports seeking justice, compared with last year; and the percentage of victims willing to report openly has declined for the past five years.

Glen Falls Post Star editorial, 5/28/16: EDITORIAL: Gillibrand Has Right Solution to Military Sexual Assaults

A Rand Military Workplace Study, cited in the Gillibrand report, said 62 percent of women who reported being sexually assaulted experienced retaliation, yet the Department of Defense could not provide any case files on retaliation at its major bases.

Not one.

Military commanders are often the judge and jury in cases in which colleagues are accused, leading to obvious conflicts of interest. The conflict is even more pronounced when a civilian is the accuser.

San Antonio Express-News editorial, 5/22/16: Sex Assault Numbers Still Too High

The Pentagon’s latest report on sexual assaults reveals little improvement in the actual numbers, with the rates remaining roughly the same because the military has shrunk.

And what this says is that the military still has much work to do in erasing this scourge.

The decision on whether to prosecute military sexual assaults needs to be taken out of the hands of the military chain of command. Bills to make that change by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., failed in 2014 and 2015. Congress should revisit this issue.

The New York Times editorial, 3/17/14: A Broken Military Justice System

The Senate had an opportunity to address the problem but declined to take it. On March 6, the Senate defeated a bold approach championed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, that would have removed commanders’ authority to make prosecutorial decisions and vested it in impartial military prosecutors instead. The measure garnered 55 votes — a clear majority but still five votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster led by another Democrat, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. … Ms. Gillibrand put it well in a February interview with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC. “I’m not interested in an innocent soldier going to jail any more than I’m interested in a guilty perpetrator going free,” she said. “We need an objective, trained prosecutor making these decisions about whether a case should go forward, not politics, not the discretion of a senior officer or a commander who may like the perpetrator or might like the victim, who may value the perpetrator more than the victim.”

The New York Daily News editorial, 3/17/14: No Hope Of Justice

Placing authority in independent prosecutors and outside of the chain of command — as Canada, Israel and German have done — would clear the murk that has kept victims from justice and the accused from fair trial.

The Miami Herald editorial, 3/16/14: A Step Forward On Military Justice

The Sinclair case shows just how conflicted the U.S. military remains on how to deal with sexual-assault accusations, especially when it comes to higher ranking officers. Meantime, the Pentagon has estimated that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted in 2012, based on an anonymous survey. That’s 26,000 potential victims and, perhaps, an equal number of abusers! Sen. Gillibrand’s bill would take military rank out of the equation, while keeping these crimes within the military’s purview, but independent of the command chain. That’s a better system of military justice for all men and women in uniform.

The New York Daily News OpEd by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, 3/14/14: Sexual Assaults and American Betrayal

But we will not walk away. We will work harder than ever in the coming year to strengthen our military by taking sexual assaults and other major crimes out of the chain of command — so that no victim is compelled to turn to his or her boss to ask for justice. It is our duty. The brave survivors of sexual assault are our sons and daughters, husbands and our wives, and they have been betrayed by the greatest military on earth. We in Congress owe it to them to make things right.

The Buffalo News editorial, 3/12/14: Senator Gillibrand Should Keep Up The Pressure To End Sexual Assaults In The Military

Military commanders have been promising for years to clean up the system, but commanders, themselves, have been sexual abusers. Nothing changes. That’s why Washington has to act, and Gillibrand’s approach remains the correct one. Other countries have already wrested authority over sexual assaults from the chain of command. Britain, Canada, Israel and other countries found that the system to which the United States unaccountably clings mistreats the victims of assaults. The militaries of those countries, by all accounts, are still functioning well.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, OpEd by former assistant secretary of defense and retired Marine colonel Paul McHale, 2/25/14: Improve Military Justice

According to Department of Defense statistics, occurrences of unwanted sexual contact in the military rose to 26,000 in 2012, from 19,000 in 2010. Both the accused and the accuser are entitled to a fair and informed assessment in these matters. To that end, Gillibrand’s legislation will ensure the application of professional legal judgment on questions of evidence, while allowing military commanders to focus on their war-fighting responsibilities.

The Daily-News Online, OpEd by Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler, 1/5/14: Bill Would Change Military For The Better

Last month, I cosponsored legislation that would remove sexual assault investigations from the chain of command. The bill would mean that evidence of a sexual assault case would be evaluated by independent, trained prosecutors who would decide if proceedings should move forward based on the facts of the case. This bill, the Military Justice Improvement Act, has so far earned a broad range of support — from Democratic elected officials such as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to Republican Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Importantly, this bill maintains the authority of commanding officers to address other serious crimes unique to the military, such as disobeying orders and going absent Without leave.

San Antonio Express-News editorial, 1/3/14: Job Left Undone On Military Assaults

Often, the victim and the assaulter are in the same command. This means an inherent conflict for commanders and throughout the chain of command, prompting fear among victims that the system will victimize them anew. This newspaper’s “Twice Betrayed” series in 2013 revealed that this sort of revictimization has occurred all too frequently. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., attempted an amendment that would remove the decision to prosecute from the chain of command. It will return as stand-alone legislation in 2014. When it does, Congress should finish the job and pass the measure. Taking these decisions out of the chain of command is the best way for helping ensure that victims come forward, a necessary step for justice being done.

The Toledo Blade editorial, 1/3/14: Curbing Sex Assaults

After she watched The Invisible War, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) decided to make curbs on military sexual assault a priority, the New Yorker magazine reported recently. Since then, she has campaigned to remove the prosecution of sexual crimes in the U.S. military from the chain of command and turn it over to independent military prosecutors. She did not assemble enough votes in the Senate to support that measure, which also has not gotten the President’s backing. But Mr. Obama has ordered a report this year on the Pentagon’s efforts to reduce such assaults. He warned that if the report doesn’t show progress, he will consider further reforms. The process needs to continue, and intensify.

The Washington Post editorial, 12/28/13: New sexual assault policies for the military may not go far enough 

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who is leading the effort for change, failed to get that measure included as part of the National Defense Authorization Act but is pressing for a stand-alone vote that could come as early as next month, when the Senate reconvenes. There are 53 senators, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and some Republicans, publicly supporting the bill, but they face an uphill battle to secure the needed 60 votes as well as a majority in the House. Ms. Gillibrand is right to feel urgency about a problem that has persisted for decades despite high-level promises of zero tolerance. “I do not want to wait another year to enact the one reform survivors have asked for,” she said in a statement reacting to Mr. Obama’s comments. Tough action, not just tough talk, is what’s needed.

Albany Times Union editorial, 12/11/13: A Bad Message To Women

Ms. Gillibrand claims bipartisan support from at least 53 colleagues, but that’s not enough to overcome the 60-vote threshold for breaking a likely filibuster. And with the House of Representatives adjourning Friday, there’s no time to carry on this fight if Congress is to approve the broader defense bill. Ms. Gillibrand’s proposal will be back as a stand-alone bill, but there’s thin hope for its approval in a Congress that clearly doesn’t get it. It doesn’t get that 26,000 instances of sexual assault and harassment — by comrades in arms, not the enemy — is daunting, even terrifying, for women considering a military career. It doesn’t get that thousands of unprosecuted instances of sexual assault and harassment is a disheartening and demoralizing statistic for women who already serve in uniform. Congress may not get it. But it shouldn’t be surprised to find that women get the message, loud and clear.

The Hill OpEd by Lt. Gov. John Walsh, 12/9/13: Gillibrand Amendment Is The Right Way

In the Montana National Guard, if the unimaginable happens, prosecution of sexual assault occurs outside the purview of a military commander. Criminal acts committed in the Guard are reported to the appropriate civilian authorities, which then investigate and prosecute them. The Guard cooperates throughout the entire process, but has no right to interfere. No one in the Guard has the power to overrule the results of a fair trial in an American court. That’s why I support legislation sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to remove prosecutions from the purview of military commanders — much like the Montana National Guard does. This legislation has earned widespread support on both sides of the aisle.

San Antonio Express-News editorial, 12/6/13: Commanders A Big Part of the Problem

The Senate recently delayed consideration of the defense authorization bill. Partly responsible are two amendments on this issue that have divided senators. One by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would remove military commanders from the decision to prosecute in sexual assault cases. Another, by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., would preserve that authority but give an outside panel the power to review those cases in which commanders have not opted for prosecution. The claim is that Gillibrand’s proposal will damage the good order and discipline of a unit because commanders will be weakened. Another is that it will increase retaliation against victims reporting sexual assaults. But removing a commander from sexual assault cases does not remove his or her command authority in all other cases. And if commanders were such a bulwark against retaliation and sexual assaults, there would not now be epidemics of both. And there also would not now be such reluctance for victims to come forward.

USA Today editorial, 12/2/13: Prosecuting Rapes In The Ranks: Our View

The Pentagon and individual services have some promising prevention programs, including one at the Great Lakes naval station. But none will be taken seriously or succeed if perpetrators aren’t prosecuted. And the current military system, in which prosecution decisions are made by commanders, simply has not worked. The decision should be put in the hands of professional military prosecutors, as Gillibrand’s measure would require. That’s how major criminal cases are prosecuted in the civilian world and by the militaries of many U.S. allies, including Australia, Canada, Great Britain and Israel. A recent spate of scandals, and increasing numbers of official reports, make change imperative. You can’t fight sexual assaults when you leave serial rapists roaming free.

Democrat & Chronicle OpEd by Robert Eckert, 11/26/13: Gillibrand sex-assault bill deserves support:

When it returns from recess next month, the Senate must pass Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act. There is no good reason for lawmakers and military leaders to oppose the changes proposed. The leadership of the U.S. military at every level has proven they lack the moral courage to solve the sexual abuse crisis. Commanders discourage reporting because it is the reporting of the crimes, far more than the crimes themselves, that interfere with good order and discipline. Unreported sexual assaults harm the victims. Reported sexual assaults harm the entire unit. Good order and discipline is therefore easier to maintain in a culture that enforces a code of silence. This will never change unless the culture changes. The culture will never change unless Congress imposes fundamental structural changes from the outside.

The Hill OpEd by Marine 2nd Lt Janessa Goldbeck, 11/25/13: The Gillibrand Amendment Will Root Out Rapists:

Considering this, it seems obvious that the solution to this problem is to take the investigation of military sexual assault out of the chain of command, so that familiarity and friendships can’t muddy the waters and justice can be served. It’s time to instill some real confidence into the reporting, investigation, and prosecution of these crimes. Moving investigations outside of the chain of command, while still leaving them within the military, is the biggest and most meaningful step the military can take to accomplish this important goal.

Charlotte Observer, 11/25/13: Give Rape Victims Better Military Justice

But Gillibrand is right that it is far easier for people to come forward with assault claims if an impartial third-party is involved, and not a service member’s commander. And as she aptly points out, the United States’ strongest allies, including Israel, Britain and Germany, already use this approach. It would be hard to make a case that those countries, especially Israel, have abandoned good order or devolved into chaos as a result. When the Senate returns next month, lawmakers should give military victims of this vicious crime the best shot at justice that they can. Gillibrand’s plan does that.

Dallas Morning News Editorial, 11/20/13: A Stronger Plan To Curb Sexual Assaults in the Military

The bottom line for this newspaper: The U.S. military has a sexual assault problem, and potential victims — mostly women but some men — must believe that their coming forward will receive the serious, impartial attention it deserves. Half measures and promises to study the matter no longer suffice. Sexual assault is an allegation not to be taken lightly. In many cases, complainants put their careers, or more, on the line. They deserve nothing less than even-handed treatment, and that’s what the Gillibrand proposal provides.

Staten Island Advance Editorial, 11/20/13: Seeking Sexual Justice: A Dilemma For America’s Armed Forces

Ms. Gillibrand’s plan has strong bipartisan support in the Senate, but apparently not yet the 60 votes necessary in order to deter a threatened filibuster. Indicating the wide range of political backing is the fact that conservative Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul. R-Ky., support the Gillibrand proposal. But the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff oppose assigning independent military prosecutors to make initial decisions on cases, even those of sexual assault. They believe such an unprecedented change in the military’s chain of command would undermine order and discipline in the armed forces. Yet the military’s policy of zero tolerance of sexual wrongdoing has failed. It is acknowledge by the top brass that many such crimes go unreported because of the reluctance of victims to step forward. Assigning independent and impartial military prosecutors to decide on the merit of sending those cases to trial would instill new confidence in military justice.

USA Today OpEd by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand & Sen. Ted Cruz: Evolve System For Fighting Sex Crime in Military

We are blessed with the most disciplined, honorable, and effective military force the world has ever known, and improving the system to report and prosecute sexual assault within the Armed Forces will help us maintain that distinction for years to come. While there are many areas of disagreement between us, as conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, we all believe in our solemn obligation to protect those who volunteer to protect us. No member of our Armed Forces should expect to be faced with sexual assault, and if they are, their complaints deserve to be heard through a fair and just process. For many years, our military leadership has worked hard to improve the system, but, tragically, serious problems remain. Now that the Senate Armed Services Committee has been presented with overwhelming evidence showing the persistent need for reform, we believe Congress must act.

USA Today OpEd by Kimberly Hanks, 11/18/13: Take Commanders Off Sexual Assault Cases

Regardless of all the promises by military leadership and half measures offered in the name of reform nothing short of removing the prosecution and adjudication authority away from the commander and placing it with independent, military professionals outside the accused’s and victim’s chain of command will end this nightmare. I want to thank my family, friends, and the tireless work of advocacy organizations like Protect Our Defenders, for all of their unwavering help and support during this difficult time. I ask you, my fellow citizens to join me in calling on our Senators to stand up and do the right thing — to support the Military Justice Improvement Act.

Roll Call OpEd by Paul Rieckhoff and Nancy Kaufman, 11/14/13: Military’s Sexual Assault Problem Belongs In Prosecutors’ Hands

The military has recently announced steps to try to improve the military justice system for victims. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the military would remove a commander’s ability to overturn a verdict of a case. In August, the military announced that they would give victims access to a special victims counsel, a lawyer to help guide them through the military justice system. These steps don’t go far enough.These measures still don’t address the essential issue of how cases move to trial. The decision to prosecute sexual assault is now assigned to officers in the chain of command and not to experienced military prosecutors, making the issue of whether to go to trial a command decision and not a legal one. The Military Justice Improvement Act, introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., as an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, would delegate the decision to prosecute certain serious crimes (those punishable by confinement of more than a year) to military prosecutors, just as prosecutors make such decisions in the civilian criminal justice system.

Politico OpEd by Trina McDonald, 11/12/13: Help End Military Rape Culture

Unfortunately, despite mounting evidence that sexual assaults in the military are occurring at an increasing rate and signs that a rape culture has been allowed to flourish, military chiefs of staff have continued to insist that this problem can be addressed within the chain of command. My experiences offer evidence to the contrary: If the perpetrators are part of the chain of command, then the chain of command can’t possibly guarantee justice or protection. When one in five female service members is reporting unwanted sexual contact, it is time to admit that this epidemic is out of control and that it threatens to undermine the safety and security of our country. More than half a million members of our military have been sexually assaulted in the 25 years since I was attacked. Military leaders, Congress and the country owe us all the opportunity to seek justice without fear of reprisal or retaliation from commanding officers. I urge senators considering the defense bill this week to support Gillibrand’s amendment.

Bloomberg News, 11/12/13: Going To War Against Military Sex Crimes

A separate bill in the Senate, sponsored by Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, would address this problem by having professional military prosecutors decide whether to pursue crimes, including sex crimes, punishable by a year or more in confinement.Military leaders argue that Gillibrand’s measure would undermine their authority and weaken discipline. Yet senior officers from Australia, Canada and the U.K. — where legal professionals now make prosecution decisions — have told Congress that such a system has had either no effect or a positive effect on military discipline.For the past 20 years, the U.S. military justice system’s “zero-tolerance” policy has failed to stem an epidemic of sexual abuse. An independent system of justice is needed to encourage greater reporting and bring the problem under control.

Stars and Stripes OpEd by Rachel Natelson, 11/12/13: Sex Assault Bill Does Damage By Being Incomplete

Proponents of the McCaskill bill point to its “historic” proposals to mandate dishonorable discharge for offenders, strip commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions, and criminalize retaliation against members who report sexual assault. Without corresponding changes to the prosecutorial process, though, these “reforms” are, at best, reiterations of existing policies and, at worst, bearers of unintended consequences for victims.

The New York Times, 4/28/13: Next Steps on Military Sexual Assaults

“In the last big health survey of active-duty American military personnel, conducted in 2011 and released last week, one in five female service members said they had been subjected to unwanted sexual contact since joining the military. That shocking statistic squares with other alarming indicators of the military’s pervasive culture of sexual misconduct. It also underscores the urgent need to change that culture… Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, is offering two promising bills aimed generally at improving conditions for women in the military and reforming the way the military handles sexual assault cases. The first measure, introduced last week, would allow women to use their own money to pay for abortions in military medical facilities. Under current law, military doctors may perform abortions only in cases of rape, incest or when the woman’s life is endangered, an appalling restriction on a woman’s right to make her own childbearing decisions. The rule also has the effect of denying abortion care to military rape victims who are unwilling to risk their careers and privacy by coming forward.”

The New York Times, 5/7/13: The Military’s Sexual Assault Crisis

Transforming the military’s entrenched culture of sexual violence will require new approaches and a much stronger effort than what the Pentagon has done so far…The most promising proposal comes from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York. She plans to introduce legislation next week that fixes a critical flaw in the military’s handling of assault cases. The measure would replace the current system of adjudicating sexual assault by taking the cases outside a victim’s chain of command. It would end the power of senior officers with no legal training but lots of conflicts of interest to decide whether courts-martial can be brought against subordinates and to toss out a jury verdict once it is rendered.

The New York Times, 7/29/13: An Escalating Fight Over Military Justice

Despite powerful evidence that the military’s approach to sexual l assault needs an overhaul, the resistance to change among military brass and their enablers on Capitol Hill remains fierce.  In June, Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, won committee approval for a 2014 defense authorization bill that includes a few helpful reforms but omits the boldest fix offered so far: a bipartisan measure offered by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, that would give independent military prosecutors, rather than commanders, the power to decide which sexual assault crimes to try. This would correct a major flaw in the military justice system that deters victims from reporting attacks and results in an abysmally low prosecution rate.

The New York Times, 10/8/13: Broken Military Justice

The abusive grilling last month of a female midshipman in a case involving three former United States Naval Academy football players provided further evidence that the military’s handling of sexual assault complaints is seriously flawed…Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat of New York, has offered promising legislation that would make this change, but it has been opposed by the military brass and by Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who favors less sweeping reform.

The New York Times, 10/14/13: The Military’s Hail Mary

The latest reason to worry about the military’s handling of sexual assault complaints comes from Jo Ann Rooney, President Obama’s nominee for under-Secretary of the Navy. Asked what the consequence would be of letting an independent, professionally trained military prosecutor outside the chain of command decide which sexual assault cases to try — the sensible reform pressed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York — this is what Ms. Rooney had to say in written testimony submitted prior to her confirmation hearing last week: “A judge advocate outside the chain of command will be looking at a case through a different lens than a military commander. I believe the impact would be decisions based on evidence rather than the interest in preserving good order and discipline. I believe this will result in fewer prosecutions and therefore defeat the very problem that I understand it seeks to address.”

USA Today, 7/26/13: Battle continues over sexual assault in the military

The battle over who should decide to prosecute sex crimes in the military — lawyers or commanders — has exposed a rift among Senate Democrats on the Armed Services Committee with high stakes for the Pentagon…The military dodged a bullet earlier this summer when the committee killed a proposal by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to strip unit commanders of their authority to prosecute sexual assault cases. Instead, a proposal backed by Sen. Carl Levin, the committee chairman from Michigan, prevailed, allowing commanders to retain the authority to prosecute those cases but, among other changes, stripped them of the authority to toss out convictions in sexual assault cases.

The Washington Post, 5/9/13: The military’s approach to sexual assault has to change

The pattern is all too familiar. Rocked by sexual abuse within its ranks — 1992 at Tailhook, 1996 at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, 2002 at the Air Force Academy, 2011 at Lackland Air Force Base — the military vows no tolerance and promises action. But abuse and a culture of impunity persist. It is time for fundamental change in how the military investigates and prosecutes these pernicious crimes… Defense Department officials, though, are unwilling to consider taking military justice out of the chain of command because of a fear that it will erode order and discipline. Yet America’s allied modern militaries — notably Britain, Canada, Israel and Australia — operate systems in which prosecuting authorities make decisions about crimes. Plans by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to introduce legislation that would adjudicate sexual assault cases outside the chain of command by trained military prosecutors will provide the opportunity to examine those models. A new approach is needed.

The Washington Post, 6/4/13: On sexual assault in the military, the service chiefs look oblivious

This should come as little surprise: The most powerful leaders in the military are apparently worried about giving up power for military commanders.

On Tuesday, the service chiefs testified before Congress about the disturbing number of sexual assault cases that are occurring in the military. Yet they expressed strong reservations, reports the Post’s Craig Whitlock, about one reform lawmakers seek: a change to the military justice system. The proposed change, which is included in a bill introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), would give uniformed prosecutors—rather than commanders—the authority to handle criminal investigations into sexual-assault cases and other crimes.

The Washington Post, 6/7/13: On sexual abuse in the military, an unsatisfying response from uniformed leaders

During a Senate hearing on sexual abuse in the military, the country’s top uniformed leaders were asked whether any commanders had been relieved of duty for tolerating an environment that allowed inappropriate sexual conduct. The chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps were unable to cite a single case, though they said such a failure might be included in assessments of more generalized command breakdowns. It was an unsatisfying response that tended to undermine the leaders’ assurances that dealing with an epidemic of sex crimes is best left to the traditional chain of command.

The Washington Post, 6/15/13: Military brass wins on sexual assault bill

THE HOPE that Congress would adopt bold measures to end the epidemic of sexual abuse within the military seems headed for the same heap of broken promises that has accompanied each new scandal over decades. Disappointing moves in the House and Senate last week failed to address the core issue of a biased chain of command. Unless there’s a change of heart — or action by a commander in chief who claims to want results — unwanted sexual contact and assaults in the ranks will continue to go unreported and unpunished… Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), lead sponsor of the measure, offered vivid testimony of why military sexual assault victims don’t trust the current system. “The assailant is usually someone senior to them, someone up the chain, someone senior, more decorated, Purple Heart recipient, someone who has done great acts of bravery and they see that the chain of command will not be objective.”

Politico, 5/12/13: Duckworth: Military incapable of fixing assault problem

Democratic Reps. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii on Sunday blasted the military’s handling of sexual assault cases, calling the system broken and in desperate need of fixing. Duckworth, a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that “the military has shown it is not capable of fixing this problem.”

The Huffington Post, 6/6/13: On Military Sexual Assault Reforms, Legislative, Executive Branches Must Balance Powers

WASHINGTON — As a string of high-profile sexual assault scandals continues to plague the military, leaders in the Department of Defense, Congress and the White House are in rare agreement: something must be done. But tensions have begun to emerge as they consider the critical questions of what should be done, and who should do it… While expressing outrage at the assaults and openness to reforms, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and other Pentagon leaders have resisted proposed legislation that would take certain jurisdiction over sexual assault cases out of the chain of command. One of the farthest-reaching of these, introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), was at the center of debate during the Senate hearing Tuesday.

PolicyMic, 6/6/13: America is clearly better off with women leaders on Capitol Hill

In a hearing on sexual assault in the military last week, the seven women on the Senate Armed Services committee pushed the military to finally do something about its sexual assault crisis. In focusing on this long ignored and unaddressed issue, their advocacy provided a perfect example of why it’s so important to have women in leadership roles… The female Senators led the charge in last week’s hearing, calling the Joint Chiefs out for doing nothing about sexual assault and introducing legislation designed to force change. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced a bill that would allow victims to report assaults to military officials outside of their chain of command, while Senator Claire McCaskill brought one that would eliminate a military officer’s ability to overturn a verdict after a trial.

Army Times, 6/24/13: Let justice be done

Following the lead of House lawmakers, the Senate Armed Services Committee has rejected a plan put forth by its own sub­committee to create an indepen­dent legal command to prosecute crimes carrying a potential sen­tence of a year or more in jail, including but not limited to rape, murder and sexual assault.  Senior military leaders argue that commanders must retain the authority to decide which cases are prosecuted, as well as the ability to overturn court-martial convictions, if they are to main­tain good order and discipline.
(June 24, 2013)

Bloomberg News, 6/4/13: Teaching Women to Salute Rapists

Rape without consequence starts early in the military, if you believe the woman in a case now wending its way through the U.S. Naval Academy… Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee, has proposed bipartisan legislation that attempts to break this buddy system by taking the prosecution of sexual assaults out of the command structure. Uniformed investigators and prosecutors would still handle complaints. But that’s not enough to reassure the brass. If their authority is removed in the barracks, their thinking goes, it is also gone from the battlefield. Without their support, this one tiny step for accusers could fail.

Bloomberg News, 6/13/13: Margaret Carlson on a conspiracy to ignore sex assaults

When the military’s top leaders line up and say they don’t want to change a situation that’s resulted in a massive number of sexual assaults going unpunished, and the Senate Armed Services Committee says you don’t have to: Where’s the oversight in that?

Yesterday the committee voted 17-9 against Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s logical fix: take reporting and prosecuting out of the chain of command, where the alleged perpetrator and the victim may serve together under a commanding officer, who probably knows both, and transfer that authority over to uniformed military lawyers who could dispassionately handle a victim’s report.

The Huffington Post: Lanny Davis on Senator Gillibarnd’s purple coalition on sexual assault in military–Why isn’t President Obama supportive?

Some things that happen in Washington, D.C., have come to be expected, such as hyperpartisanship in the Congress along sharp “red” vs. “blue” lines.  New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) has assembled a remarkable bipartisan coalition of senators to support her modest proposal, the Military Justice Improvement Act, which would guarantee that decisions whether to investigate and prosecute allegations of unwelcome sexual contact within the military would be made outside of the chain of command where the alleged assault occurred.

MSNBC, 6/17/13: Patrick Murphy: Why Senator Gillibrand is right about military sexual assault

The sexual assault problem is a cancer on the military. It’s time to make our military justice system independent from the chain of command in felony cases: this will give confidence to those service members assaulted to come forward in search of justice…We need to systemically change the way the military handles sexual assault cases. This can be done by reforming of Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to make the military justice system independent at the felony level, as Senator Gillibrand has proposed. 

Foreign Policy, 9/5/13: A col.’s view of commander’s authority

When I was a lieutenant stationed in Germany, one of my soldiers was murdered. Not for a second did my commander consider investigating the crime himself. Instead, he immediately turned the case over to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and the German police. By contrast, later when I was a major stationed in Hawaii, I was assigned to be the investigating officer in a rape case…Senator Gillibrand’s move to take criminal investigative discretionary authority out of the hands of commanders is on target and should be supported by both the military and elected representatives.

Los Angeles Times, 5/9/13: The military’s sexual assault problem

The news that sexual assaults in the armed forces last year were estimated to be up 35% over 2010 brought a swift response from President Obama — that he had “no tolerance” for sexual crimes in the ranks and that perpetrators would be prosecuted and punished… Many of the proposals for how to change the culture are coming from female legislators on Capitol Hill. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) plan to introduce a bill next week to address service members’ reluctance, apparently for fear of retribution, to report sexual assault. Currently, service members’ reports of sexual assault move through the chain of command to a higher authority who has the power to decide whether the case goes forward, for instance, to a court martial.

Los Angeles Times, 6/5/13: Military is on the spot over sexual assault

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers from both major parties rebuked the Pentagon on Tuesday for failing to curtail sexual assaults in the military, arguing that the inability of commanders to solve the problem may mean they need to be stripped of the power to decide on prosecuting and punishing offenders. With an estimated 26,000 service members experiencing “unwanted sexual contact” last year — and evidence that many fear retaliation if they report an assault to a superior — Congress is preparing to take up a bill by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) that would shift decisions on serious crimes, including rape, from commanders to independent military prosecutors.

Miami Herald, 5/11/13: Rape in U.S. military: Conduct unbecoming

If the military were truly serious about stemming the plague of sexual assaults in the ranks, the number of incidents would drop dramatically. Instead, rapes and assaults have increased…Sen. Claire McCaskill has put the brakes on the nomination of Lt. Gen. Susan Helms for vice commander of the Air Force Space Command. Sen. McCaskill first wants a clear explanation as to why Lt. Gen. Helms last year overturned a jury conviction in a sexual-assault case. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Patty Murray and Kelly Ayotte propose a special victim’s counsel.

Miami Herald, 6/6/13: Washington’s enablers of sexual assault in U.S. military

Sexual assault in the military is a crime. Cluelessness should be, too. Then, perhaps, the gaggle of gob-smacked military leaders who appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week — and their enablers on the committee — could be prosecuted, convicted and sent on their way. And we’d be left with officials, both bemedaled and elected, who really want to come down hard on this scourge… Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill took the lead in grilling the recalcitrants in uniform. Both are sponsoring proposals that would give victims of sexual assault a fighting chance of having the attacker actually convicted and making such convictions far more difficult to overturn. Ms. Gillibrand wants to remove prosecution from the chain of command and hand it over to real military lawyers. Ms. McCaskill wants to jettison the ability for commanders to throw out guilty verdicts willy-nilly.

The Boston Globe, 5/12/13: Pentagon’s sexual assault conundrum

Feeling outrage over the increasing prevalence of sexual assault in the military is understandable, but too easy. How hard is it, really, to become indignant when Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, the Air Force’s head of its sexual assault prevention division, was arrested for groping a woman last week? The next day, a report based on a 2012 survey showed that 26,000 personnel — mostly women, but including a few men — had “unwanted sexual contact,” a 35 percent increase over 2010. In most cases, no formal charges were brought, maybe because the likes of Krusinski were within the reporting structure…The prevalence of women in any institution will change its culture. It is no coincidence that the effort to reform the Pentagon’s legal approach to handling assault charges — which is opposed by Hagel — is being led by women. They include Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Barbara Boxer, and Representative Niki Tsongas, who will propose legislation this week to amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice. President Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett headed a meeting at the While House on Thursday to discuss the proposed changes. Michelle Obama, who serves as a liaison to military families, was represented by her chief of staff, Tina Tchen.

The Chicago Tribune, 6/7/13: Tammy Duckworth: Take sexual assault protections out of military chain of command

I love the Army with every bone in my body. The lessons I learned as an officer, the challenges I’ve faced and the camaraderie I’ve experienced are at the core of who I am.  That is why I am devastated to see how sexual predators are treated in the military. Just a single case of sexual harassment or assault is unacceptable, and I refuse to accept the easy explanation that there is a macho culture in the military that condones sexual assault. The military is a place of discipline, technical proficiency and personal sacrifice for the greater good. But, for too many, it has become a place of fear and intimidation.

The Chicago Tribune, 7/25/13: Chapman: Military brass play same old song

The people in charge of our military services have been presented with a possible change in how they operate, and they don’t like it. I have the feeling I’ve heard this song before.  Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is sponsoring a bill to address the endemic problem of sexual assault in the ranks. It would revoke the authority of commanders to dispose these and other criminal allegations as they see fit. Instead, such cases would be handed over to professional military prosecutors.

The Chicago Tribune, 7/27/13: Editorial: The military’s enemy within

Last year a military jury convicted Air Force Lt. Col. James Wilkerson of aggravated sexual assault against a civilian woman who worked at his air base in Aviano, Italy. He was sentenced to spend a year in confinement and be expelled from the military. But then his commander decided to toss out the verdict and keep Wilkerson…Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is pushing a bill that would take decisions about most serious crimes, including these sexual abuse cases, out of the hands of commanders and place them with professional military prosecutors. Some 44 senators are co-sponsoring or endorsing the Military Justice Improvement Act, including Republicans Mark Kirk of Illinois, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Illinois’ other senator, Democrat Dick Durbin, has not decided.

The Denver Post, 5/9/13: Still failing on sexual assault

The escalating number of sexual assaults in the military bespeak a crisis that has been in the making for decades…This is the syndrome that U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., hopes to address with a measure she’ll introduce to amend the military code. It would ensure military prosecutors are in charge of all decisions on sex assaults, taking a victim’s commander out of the equation. It’s an important change that would eliminate potential conflicts of interest for commanders.

Baltimore Sun, 5/8/13: Military Injustice

The recent study estimating that there may have been 26,000 cases of sexual assault in the military last year stirred a lot of tough talk from the Pentagon and the White House over the past 24 hours. But the question is whether that outrage will translate into much-needed reforms within the armed forces. On that front, we have our doubts…As long as such investigations go up the existing chain of command, it seems likely that victims will not have confidence in them. That’s why it is worth pursuing the suggestion of some in Congress, including U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, to rewrite the military code of justice so that such matters are handled by prosecutors and judges and not supervised by others in the chain of command.

Baltimore Sun, 7/18/13: Military sexual assaults: reforms not dead yet

Efforts to address the epidemic of sexual assaults in the military got a boost this week from unexpected quarters — the tea party wing of the Republican Party. Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas said they support legislation offered by New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand that would take prosecution of such cases outside the military’s chain of command.

Post-Gazette, 6/11/13: Base of abuse: A Senate plan would curb military sexual assaults

The U.S. military’s sexual assault problem has come under heavy scrutiny in recent years, but a recent Department of Defense report suggests that the epidemic has only gotten worse… The most promising proposal is a bill introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., which would transfer authority over complaints of sexual misconduct and other serious crimes from military commanders to military prosecutors outside the chain of command. Commanders have the power to decide whether serious crimes are brought to trial, but this discretion ought to be given instead to qualified, independent lawyers without interest in a case’s outcome. The bill also would abate commanders’ power to overturn guilty verdicts for serious crimes.

The Statesman, 6/7/13: At minimum, give military a deadline for decreasing sexual assaults

In dealing with sexual assaults, Congress and President Barack Obama should consider drawing a red line, creating a deadline for commanders to stop the spread of sexual abuse in the ranks. If commanders are unable to deal effectively with the problem within a set period of time, their disposal of criminal cases involving sexual misconduct should be turned over to military prosecutors… The Senate committee is considering at least seven legislative proposals, including one by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., which would strip commanders of the authority to decide when criminal charges are filed as well as the authority to convene courts-marital.

The Statesman, 7/18/13: Military officers face dwindling chances to reduce sexual assault

It was an unusual sight for a Congress defined by division and partisan paralysis. Unusual, but very welcome, especially given the issue being discussed. There in Washington on Tuesday were Republican U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky to announce they were backing legislation by Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York to take away the power of unit commanders to decide whether to prosecute sexual assault cases and give it to experienced military lawyers ranked colonel or higher. Standing with Cruz, Paul and Gillibrand for the announcement was Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.

Courier-Journal, 6/9/13: Sex abuse cases reveal military’s broken chain of command

The “cancer” of sex abuse in the military needs to be cured. The number of reported sexual assault cases from last year is appalling — 26,000. And a recent series of events has brought increased attention to this national problem… Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is proposing a bill that “would remove more serious assault-related prosecutions from the military chain of command,” according to a Washington Post article.

Courier-Journal, 7/22/13: Rand Paul: Changes needed in military handling of sex assault

If you are a victim of sexual assault, you shouldn’t have to fear work reprisal if you report it. You shouldn’t have to report it to your boss… The Pentagon estimates that 26,000 members of our military experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012. It has also been reported that 23.6 percent of female veterans have a history of military sexual trauma. These statistics cannot be ignored, which is why I have joined Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in supporting the Military Justice Improvement Act.

San Antonio Express News, 7/30/13: More work to do on military assaults

The U.S. House approved a measure last week to right a grievous wrong done to victims of sexual assault in the military. The Senate should approve the measure and then both bodies should recognize that there is more to be done…Also needed: removing commanders from the process in determining which assault cases are criminally prosecuted. This proposal by New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has been blocked, significantly by fellow Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee.

San Antonio Express News, 8/21/13: Hagel misses important opportunity

There is much to admire in what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is imposing on the military to stop the epidemic of sexual assaults in the ranks.  But here’s what’s missing: Hagel telling commanders that they will henceforth be removed from the decision-making on whether to criminally prosecute these cases… Remove commanders from the decision to prosecute, as a measure proposed by New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand requires.

The Columbia Star, 9/20/13: Combating the military on sexual assault

Women have served in the American armed forces for more than 200 years, since they were nurses and cooks during the American Revolution. But since World War II, their number

Key Facts and Info

Read the Gillibrand Report of Four Largest U.S. Military Bases (2015): Documents Reveal Continued Lack of Improvement in Military Justice System

Read the Gillibrand Report of Four Largest U.S. Military Bases (2014)Despite Recent Congressional Reforms, Dysfunction In Military Justice System Remains

Read the Gillibrand Report of Four Largest U.S. Military Bases (2013): Nearly Half of Survivors Who Reported Assaults Dropped Out of Military Justice Process; Sexual Assaults More Prevalent Than Previously Acknowledged (pdf)

Read AP story: "Pentagon Misled Lawmakers on Military Sexual Assault Cases"

Read Human Rights Watch Report: U.S. Raped In Military - Then Punished: Unjust Discharges Cause Lasting Harm

Read "Embattled" the Human Rights Watch Report: Survivors 12x More Likely to Suffer Retaliation Than See Assailant Convicted; Not A Single Case of Serious Disciplinary Action Found for Retaliation (pdf)

NY Times Magazine Cover Story: "The Military's Rough Justice on Sexual Assault" on military’s continued failure to combat sexual assault – including accounts of retribution and retaliation

VIDEO: “Military Justice’s Dirty Secret”: Fmr. Chief Prosecutor USAF “Put Out to Pasture” for Speaking Out & Doing His Job

5/9/16 DOD IG Report: Evaluation of the Separation of Service Members Who Made a Report of Sexual Assault 

Quotes You Should Read

MJIA: Myths vs Facts sheet

12/3/2014: Top Reasons Why Military Justice Improvement Act Is Still Needed After Previous Incremental NDAA Reforms (pdf)

Senators Who Voted In Favor of MJIA

Retired Military Officers Supporting MJIA

Veterans', Faith, & Women's Groups Supporting MJIA

Letter from UCMJ legal experts supporting MJIA (pdf)

Editorials & Op-Eds Supporting MJIA

ESPN Report: The Enemy Within

Read DOD’s Own Advisory Panel Opinion in Support of MJIA

Allies Testimony: No Impact on Good Order & Discipline From Change To Independent Military Justice System

Gillibrand Testimony to Response Systems Panel

Text of Response Systems Panel Dissent (pdf)

List of Excluded Offenses

Useful Links

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Vietnam Veterans of America

Survivor Stories: 1 | 2

DOD Annual SAPR Reports

Defense Advisory Committee on Women

The Invisible War

“Twice Betrayed” Investigative Report

ESPN Report: The Enemy Within

Service Women’s Action Network

Protect Our Defenders