(Washington D.C.) – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) – joined by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Rand Paul (R-KY), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Jeanne Shaheen, (D-NH) – kicked off their final two week push to create an independent, objective and non-biased military justice system with the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) expected to be debated on the floor before the Thanksgiving recess. The bipartisan Military Justice Improvement Act, to be offered as an amendment on the Senate floor to the NDAA, is already publicly supported by 46 Senators, including 38 Democrats and 8 Republicans.
The Military Justice Improvement Act is a common sense proposal that seeks to reverse the systemic obstacles that numerous victims of military sexual assault have described in deciding whether to report the crimes committed against them due to the clear bias and inherent conflicts of interest posed by the military chain of command's current sole decision-making power over whether cases move forward to a trial. The senators were joined by survivors of sexual assault in the military; a retired Brigadier General and former Pentagon appointee by the Obama administration; and advocates.
Blumenthal said, “By closing the small remaining vote gap in coming days, we can assure stronger justice to military sexual assault victims. Victims of this hideous, horrific crime deserve a fairer, more effective justice system – with decisions made by a trained, experienced prosecutor – so they will be better protected and encouraged to report sexual assaults. As the best and strongest military in history, our men and women in uniform deserve a justice system worthy of their excellence. Our legislation is vital to victim trust and confidence in military justice. I am proud to stand with Senator Gillibrand and this broad, bipartisan coalition of advocates and colleagues.”
The Military Justice Improvement Act moves the decision whether to prosecute any crime punishable by one year or more in confinement to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors, with the exception of 37 crimes that are uniquely military in nature, such as disobeying orders or going Absent Without Leave. The decision whether to prosecute the 37 serious crimes uniquely military in nature plus all crimes punishable by less than one year of confinement would remain within the chain of command. The bill does not amend Article 15 pertaining to non-judicial punishments.
According to the FY2012 Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) report released earlier this year by the Defense Department, an estimated 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact and sexual assaults occurred in FY2012, a 37 percent increase from FY2011. Another report released by Defense Department this year showed that more than one in five female servicemembers reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact while serving in the military. Also, according to the FY2012 SAPRO Report, 25 percent of women and 27 percent of men who received unwanted sexual contact indicated the offender was someone in their military chain of command. Further, 50 percent of female victims stated they did not report the crime because they believed that nothing would be done with their report. Even the current top military leadership admits the current system "has failed" and as Commandant of the Marine Corps General James F. Amos stated this year, victims do not come forward because "they don't trust the chain of command."
The problem of sexual assault in the military is not new, neither are the pledges of “zero tolerance” from commanders, which date all the way back to then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney in 1992. The Military Justice Improvement Act would for the first time remove the decision whether to take a case to special or general court-martial completely out of the chain of command and give that discretion to experienced military prosecutors for all crimes punishable by one year or more in confinement, except crimes that are uniquely military in nature, such as disobeying orders or going AWOL.
The Military Justice Improvement Act also:
- Provides the offices of the military chiefs of staff with the authority and discretion to establish courts, empanel juries and choose judges to hear cases (i.e. convening authority).
- This legislation does not amend Article 15. Commanding officers will still be able to order non-judicial punishment for lesser offenses not directed to trial by the prosecutors.
The Senators were joined by Ariana Klay, a former Marine officer assigned to the prestigious Marine Barracks Washington, who graduated with honors from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2006 and subsequently served in Iraq, Ben Klay, served on active duty in the Marines from 2003 through 2007, and was a reservist in 2011, and testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee about his expertise on the military’s mishandling of sexual offenses based on his time in the Marines, Nancy Duff Campbell, Co-President of the National Women’s Law Center, and Brigadier General (Ret.) David L. McGinnis, former Principal Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, U.S. Department of Defense, appointed by President Obama.
The Military Justice Improvement Act is supported by:
- Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA)
- Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA)
- Service Womens Action Network (SWAN)
- Protect Our Defenders (POD)
- National Women’s Law Center
- National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women
- National Alliance to End Sexual Violence
- National Research Center for Women & Families
- Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health
- Our Bodies Ourselves
- International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers
- Members of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence
- Baha’is of the United States
- Equal Rights Advocates
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
- Federally Employed Women
- Feminist Majority
- Futures Without Violence
- General Federation of Women’s Clubs
- Girls, Inc.
- Hindu American Seva Communities
- Institute for Science and Human Values, Inc.
- Jewish Women International
- Joyful Heart Foundation
- National Capital Union Retirees
- National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- National Congress of Black Women, Inc
- National Council of Churches
- National Council of Jewish Women
- National Council of Women’s Organizations
- National Organization for Women
- National Women’s Health Network
- OWL-The Voice of Midlife and Older Women
- Peaceful Families Project
- Presbyterian Women in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Inc.
- Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
- SPART*A, an LGBT Military Organization
- The National Congress of American Indians
- United Church of Christ
- Justice and Witness Ministries
- Woman's National Democratic Club
- Women’s Research & Education Institute
- YWCA USA