Senate Rejects Plan to Restrain Military Legal Authority

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted on June 12 to strike a proposal that would remove the authority to oversee the prosecution of military sexual assaults from the chain of command. The committee voted 17 to 9 in favor of an amendment sponsored by SASC chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) over a proposal by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) In its place would be a provision that requires an independent review by the next higher level of the chain of command in cases where a commander decides not to prosecute a sexual assault allegation. However, Gillibrand found the provision “insufficient” as it will not adequately address victims’ fear of retaliation. She said a distinguishing factor of her bill was that it requests a set of military lawyers, who do not report to the chain of command, to make decisions independently. She argued that commanders are not creating a climate where victims believe they can report without “being blamed, being retaliated against, being marginalized.” Levin said the new provision addresses the problem of retaliation by making it a crime and establishing an expectation that commanders will be held accountable for creating that climate in which victims fear retaliation. (Gillibrand statement following SASC vote)