Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) suggested at a hearing today on sexual assault in the military that hormones run amok among young recruits could be a reason for the Defense Department’s problem with sex crimes.
At the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to examine pending sexual assault legislation with the military’s top brass, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) also charged that not every military commander can distinguish between “a slap on the ass and a rape.”
The Pentagon faces a barrage of bills intended to take power out of the hands of the military in combating sexual assault in the ranks. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos, and Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp appeared at the witness table along with a handful of military jurists to argue that Congress’ desire to overhaul the military justice system is not the answer.
“Soldier discipline is the foundation of any well-trained force capable of winning our nation’s wars,” 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.”
Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act would strip responsibility from the chain of command in deciding whether to bring charges for any serious crime or whether to modify a sentence or verdict.
“Reducing command responsibility could adversely affect the ability of the commander to enforce professional standards and ultimately to accomplish the mission,” Dempsey said.
Gillibrand told the panel “while you are all so dedicated and determined, not all commanders are objective.”
“Not every single commander necessarily wants women in the force. Not every single commander believes what a sexual assault is. Not every single commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and a rape because they merge all of these crimes together,” she said.
“…How do you intend to hold commanders accountable if they don’t get reporting up and they don’t begin to solve this problem? Because none of you has ever reprimanded or held any of these commanders accountable in the past.”
Chambliss said “there’s also gotta be some kind of fear put into these young people that come to every branch of our service, the very first day that they raise their hand and swear to defend the Constitution.”
“And the theory has got to be that that chain of command that we allude to really is serious about making sure that these types sexual assaults do not occur, and, by golly if they do, starting with the drill sergeant all the way to the top, somebody’s gonna make sure that you pay the price if this does happen,” he added.
Chambliss, who is not running for a third term, maintained “we’ve got to do a better job of screening folks before they come in.”
“And the other thing we have to remember is we think about making changes to the UCMJ in this respect. The young folks that are coming into each of your services are anywhere from 17 to 22, or 23. Gee whiz, the level — the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur,” he said. “So we’ve got to be very careful of how we address it on our side.”