Last week, the Pentagon offered its weakest effort yet in an attempt to stave off badly needed reform to hold those who commit sexual offenses in the military accountable. In response to a bipartisan Congressional inquiry made after an Associated Press report titled “Pentagon misled lawmakers on military sexual assault cases,” the Secretary of Defense sent the lawmakers a lengthy document intended to question the Associated Press’s conclusions. Instead, Secretary Carter’s response raised more questions than it answered, earning another AP story entitled “DOD uses undisclosed files to defend sex assault testimony.”
Specifically, the letter from Secretary Carter references documents DoD has refused to make public, makes contradictory claims to the original misleading testimony to Congress made by Admiral Winnefeld the letter purports to uphold, exposes the underlying testimony at the center of the scandal as factually inaccurate and most disturbingly claims it was unable to determine the Air Force files on which the original testimony was based.
NOTE: The “missing” Air Force files were previously shared with lawmakers, and copies remain maintained in Senator Gillibrand’s office. These Air Force files – which DoD has asked Gillibrand not to share publicly – directly rebuke the DoD’s original claims.
The scandal involving DoD willfully and intentionally misleading Congress with false testimony first erupted after Protect Our Defenders, a non-profit organization, released a report finding that then Vice Chairman Admiral Winnefeld’s July 2013 testimony to the Senate Armed Services committee was factually inaccurate. Read their report “Debunked” here. Admiral Winnefeld clearly testified that local civilian prosecutors “refused” or “would not take” sexual assault cases and that commanders “insisted” that the cases move forward, arguing that perpetrators would be walking free were it not for these cases remaining within the chain of command. Both the underlying files and the DoD’s latest response definitively show that neither claim was true.
Statement from Senator Gillibrand, the ranking Senator on the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, is below:
“I am deeply disappointed by the Secretary’s response. The Secretary’s letter is an eight-page list of excuses when all he should be doing now is giving a simple apology and making a plan to hold whomever prepared the misleading testimony accountable. The transcripts of the hearing speak for themselves. Admiral Winnefeld made claims that were not true. Period. I am left to conclude that because DoD doesn’t have a good reason to let commanders make legal decisions, they had to invent one, or at a minimum, embellish one. I am deeply concerned that the DoD does not appear to take misleading statements to the Senate Armed Services Committee as the serious problem it is, and I am requesting that President Obama, the commander-in-chief, open a formal independent investigation to get to the bottom of how this happened.”