Levin Armed with New Joint Chiefs Evidence in Military Sex Abuse Battle
"Under our new structure the O-6 JAG would have the disposition authority to decide if a case proceeds to trial based on the strengths/weaknesses of the evidence," the senator's office said. "In the military, prosecutors are professionally graded on a whole host of matters - not just wins/losses. In fact, military prosecutors often receive praise from their superiors for being willing to take tough cases to trial."
Supporters on the Gillibrand side range from Tea Party Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to polar opposites Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and David Vitter (R-La.).
In the Armed Services Committee, backers of Levin's alternative language, which left prosecution authority in the hands of commanders while providing for an automatic high-level review of any sexual assault allegation in which commanders decide not to prosecute, were Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and Mike Lee (R-Utah).
None of Levin's allies on that vote are co-sponsors on Gillibrand's revamped amendment.
Nelson was criticized today for his vote by MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, who asked him, "Why don't you believe that the victims should get what they want in terms of the way these cases are prosecuted?"
"This is a lot of misunderstanding here. If you take the commander out of the loop, as Senator Gillibrand wants, then if the prosecutor thinks they don't have enough evidence, that's it," Nelson said. "Under the system that we are proposing is, the commander stays in. If he wants a prosecution he'll get it. Likewise, if the commander says no and the prosecutor wants to go forward, it will go all the way to the service secretary for review."
"There are also the safeguards of many places that the victim is encouraged to come forth. All of those are improvements to a system that has not worked," he added. "And the question that, I believe, if people will see the alternative, is that it makes it a lot more likely if the commander is there that there will be a prosecution."
The Pentagon estimated that 26,000 episodes of unwanted sexual contact happened in 2012, with 53 percent of the victims being male.
Juliet Beyer, director of officer and enlisted personnel management at the Defense Department, was asked at a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing this week whether the integration of women into roles where mostly men served was increasing the risk of sexual assault.
"As we go forward, the more we treat servicewomen equally, the more likely they are to treat each other with respect. So, again, this is no different than any other effort across the department with regard to the issue of sexual assault," Beyer said.
"As far as expanded roles of women in the service, the Army, that's part of our cultural examination that's ongoing as we speak," said Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, deputy chief of staff of the Army. "It's part of the continual assessment. There's the whole piece on the cultural side, not just for sexual assault but inclusive of that, with a clear focus on sexual assault being examined in detail."
The Senate tussle over how to handle sexual assault cases has been going on for months, with Gillibrand charging at a June hearing that not every military commander can distinguish between “a slap on the ass and a rape" and Chambliss saying "the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur."
Gillibrand’s proposal is opposed by the Joint Chiefs and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
“Soldier discipline is the foundation of any well-trained force capable of winning our nation’s wars,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said. “The commander is necessarily vested with the ultimate authority because he or she is responsible for all that goes on in a unit.”