Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s legislation that would remove sexual assault cases in the military from the chain of command and turn them over to independent military prosecutors appears on the ropes. Her bill was opposed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff during a hearing last week and has also drawn opposition by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel who favors keeping the chain of command involved.
Though her amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act cleared her Senate Armed Services subcommittee on Tuesday, the full committee’s chairman, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich) has announced that he will offer an alternative bill that would replace Gillibrand’s bill. Gillibrand’s bill has garnered 28 co-sponsors, including four Republicans, but does not seem to have majority support in the committee.
Levin’s legislation would provide for an automatic review of any command decision not to prosecute a sexual assault. The full committee will vote later today on both proposals as well as other amendments to be included in the final bill which sets the policy for the Defense Department.
Earlier today, Hagel explained to the Senate Budget Committee why he favors keeping the chain of command during the investigation of sexual assault cases.
“I don’t think you can fix the problem,” said Hagel, “or have accountability within the structure of the military without the command involved in that.”
Hagel added that he’s a firm believer in accountability and “if you don’t hold people accountable then you’re not going to fix the problem. You can pass all the laws you want and that isn’t going to work. “
Hagel had said he favors change, but ” I don’t personally believe that you can eliminate the command structure in the military from this process because it is the culture. It is the institution. It’s the people within that institution that have to fix the problem. “
He said “that’s the culture, the people are the culture. So I don’t know how you disconnect that from the accountability of command. As I said , we need to change some things. We could to do some things much better. We have to. But I think we have got to be very careful when we talk about taking the command structure out of this process .”