Congress to Vote on Military Justice Bills

Congress is expected to vote this week on two pieces of legislation that could potentially change the way the US military prosecutes sexual assaults and other crimes. The first bill, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), has been picking up momentum as of late. It seeks to remove commanders’ power to make decisions about cases involving sexual assaults, giving that authority instead to independent prosecutors. “Too often, these brave men and women find themselves in the fight of their lives, not off on some far away battlefield, but right here on our own soil, within their own ranks and [among] commanding officers, as victims of horrific acts of sexual violence,” according to a release on Gillibrand’s website. Gillibrand claims 37 crimes “uniquely military in nature” are exempt from this change, such as absence without leave issues and all crimes punishable by less than one year of confinement. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), however, have introduced another bill, which proposes a set of alternate reforms, such as reforming the Article 32 process and barring use of the “good soldier” defense for those accused in sexual assault cases. It also strips military commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions, but it does not remove them from the decision-making process on prosecution, reported Roll Call. (See also Under Fire.)