Last week, the Role of the Commander subcommittee released a report strongly advocating that military commanders retain their control in sexual assault cases. The committee supported such recommendation with the assertion that removing commanders’ authority in military sexual assault cases will neither decrease the number of sexual assaults nor increase the reporting of sexual assaults.
Senator Clair McCaskill (D-MO), who authored the defense-bill amendment purporting to preserve commanders’ roles in the assault complaint process, commended the panel for rendering "independent and diverse" findings.
“Just weeks ago, we passed into law a historic rewrite of the military justice system to curb these heinous crimes, with reforms grounded in sound policy. And as we aggressively implement those reforms, this panel's diligent work is providing us with crucial information that must inform any future debate about alternative proposals," McCaskill stated.
McCaskill’s views, however, were not altogether well received. Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), who backed the rival amendment purporting to remove decision-making in military sexual assault cases from the chain of command, refuted the subcommittee’s report by issuing the following statement: "There is nothing surprising about a Pentagon sub-panel working mostly behind closed doors supporting stated Pentagon policy and encouraging more time to wait and see if the problem gets better. We have waited for too long, because under any metric, the system is broken and our service members deserve better.”
Likewise, Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for military sexual assault victims, further disputed the report, via the group’s President, Nancy Parrish. Parrish argued that “[t]he idea that professional, independent, justice is good enough for American citizens, but not for those who risk their lives to protect our values is un-American”, accusing the Pentagon of making “hollow” promises and feigning interest in “zero tolerance” policies.
While the majority of the nine subcommittee members agreed with the report’s findings, one member expressed a different view. Elizabeth Hillman, law professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law and active member of the subcommittee, dissented from the majority, arguing that commanders "are neither essential nor well-suited for their current role in the legal process of criminal prosecution."
Subcommittee member and leader of the majority, Harry Reid (D-NV), plans to schedule a debate and a vote on GIllibrand’s amendment as a stand-alone bill later this month.