A well-supported measure that advocates for transparency and impartiality in cases of U.S. military sexual assault has been shot down.
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY) proposed the Military Justice Improvement Act that would have reassigned sexual assault cases to independent prosecutors as opposed to commanding officers. According to The New York Times, the goal of the measure was to remove the fear of retaliation for reporting such crimes.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), with top military officials' support, decided late last night to eliminate Gillibrand's proposal from the Defense Authorization Act. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have expressed their concern that the act would undermine officers' power. Levin proposed a substitute measure that would require senior military officers to review cases when commanders refuse to prosecute them, keeping the process within the military.
A major supporter of the Military Justice Improvement Act, along with 26 co-sponsors, was Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who commented "I am stunned that when it comes to prosecuting these crimes the Committee is largely embracing the status quo by allowing commanders to not only decide whether a case goes forward, but even to handpick the jury that will render the verdict.”
The Pentagon revealed last month that sexual assault within the military is at an all time high with 26,000 anonymous reports this year, a major increase from 2011.
MSNBC reports that Gillibrand will get another chance to introduce her act when the larger defense bill comes up for a final vote later this summer.
Lucia Brown is a summer editorial intern at Common Dreams.