Rep. Speier: Congress an ‘enabler’ of military sexual assault

“Is Congress really going to stand by and let the military handle this? Congress has been an enabler of sexual assault by not demanding that these cases be taken out of the chain of command.”

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There has been wide bipartisan outrage over the latest Army sexual assault incident, which came a week after the Air Force’s chief sexual assault prevention officer was also charged with sexual assault.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a re-training and re-credentialing of all service members who work on sexual assault prevention on Tuesday after the abuse allegations surfaced against the soldier at Fort Hood.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) wrote to Hagel on Wednesday urging him to create a more rigorous review process for those selected to work in sexual assault prevention positions.

Even before the latest abuse allegations, lawmakers have been vowing to make changes to the military’s judicial code amid several other scandals and a reported increase in military sexual assaults over the past two years.

There appears to be bipartisan consensus to strip a military commander’s ability to overturn guilty verdicts — in response to a sexual case earlier this year where a guilty verdict was tossed — but Speier’s proposal to remove sexual assault cases should from the chain of command remains up for debate.

Speier introduced legislation to take the cases out of commanders’ hands in the last Congress and has re-introduced it again this year. Her bill would remove sexual assault cases from the chain of command and set up an independent office to investigate and prosecute those crimes. It has 122 co-sponsors.

Hagel said last week he was opposed to the move, although a spokesman later clarified that Hagel was open to all options in Congress.

“It is my strong belief — and I think others on Capitol Hill and within our institution — the ultimate authority has to remain within the command structure,” Hagel said.

Senior members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee have said they are looking at proposals to change the military’s judicial code, but have given no indication yet that they would support removing cases from the chain of command.

In the Senate, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is readying legislation that would remove all major felony cases outside the chain-of-command.

Her bill, which will be released Thursday, is different than Speier’s because it does not single out sexual assault crimes, and it only applies to cases that carry a sentence of one-year or more.