House panel opposes removing authority over sexual assault cases

 

The House Armed Services Committee batted down an amendment by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) to remove commanders from decision-making authority over military sexual assault within their chain of command, with 34 voting "no," and 28 voting in favor. 

"This is not something we should do ad-hoc," said Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio). 

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Military chiefs have strongly opposed the idea, saying commanders having that authority was necessary to discipline troops within their chain of command on sexual assault and other crimes. 

"We're relieving them of that responsibility by taking it out of the chain of command," said Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.). 

The proposal has been much debated in the House and Senate in recent months as Congress attempts to combat sexual assault, with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) pushing a similar idea in the Senate. 

It received strong support from Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot who was wounded in Iraq, as well as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii.), a current member of the Army National Guard, and Rep. William Enyart (D-Ill.). 

"I have gradually, painfully come to the conclusion that military sexual assaults should be taken of the chain of command," said Duckworth. 

"This is not the silver bullet, but it will help," said Gabbard. 

Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) said she supported the amendment, but raised concerns.

"We have to get this right. This is a multifaceted challenge," she said. "Simply changing a commander's authority will not get rid of the scourge of sexual assault." 

Although there was strong opposition from Republicans, several Democrats opposed it also, including committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) who said it would do more harm than good. 

"It just doesn't improve the overall situation enough to justify a radical change," Smith said. "We are going to have to work tirelessly to keep the pressure on the military."