The U.S. Senate has spoken — and it was a discouraging word for victims of sexual assault in the military.
Earlier this month, the Senate blocked a key measure by requiring 60 votes to get to a floor vote. It received 55.
The best of the two bills addressing the role of military commanders in dealing with sexual assaults was by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY. It would have taken decision-making in such cases out of the chain of command, substituting trained prosecutors.
Another, by Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, would keep court-martial proceedings in the chain of command. It passed overwhelmingly.
The McCaskill bill ignores a clear and present danger to military victims of sexual assaults — their commanders. They have too often lacked the expertise — or have been motivated by a conflict of interest — to make the right calls.
Gillibrand’s bill would have best served the interest of justice, though McCaskill’s measure would allow victims to challenge discharges from service and civilian secretary review if a prosecutor and commander differ on whether a case proceeds to military trial. Better to have taken commanders out of the process altogether.
The requirement for 60 votes was originally engineered last month because of alleged distress that Majority Leader Harry Reid would not allow a measure on Iranian sanctions in an earlier defense authorization bill.
But it was clear that the real goal — of members on both sides of the aisle — was to block the bill altogether.
Opponents of Gillibrand’s bill again argued that removing such cases from the chain of command would undercut commanders’ ability to enforce discipline and maintain morale.
Is there any worse blow to morale than a commander failing to remove a predator from the ranks?
An estimated 26,000 military members were sexually assaulted in 2012, widely accepted as well below the number of actual cases because of a reluctance to report.
This reluctance almost certainly involves commanders’ outsized role in deciding how these cases proceed.
Gillibrand promises to return with the measure. Perhaps by then, more than 60 senators will side with victims over commanders.
— San Antonio (Texas) Express-News