Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Renews Push for Senate Vote on Military Sexual Assault

PHOTO: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., speaks during a news conference to introduce legislation that aims to curb sexual assaults at universities, July 30, 2014, in Washington. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., speaks during a news conference to introduce legislation that aims to curb sexual assaults at universities, July 30, 2014, in Washington.

A determined Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is making yet another legislative push to overhaul the way the military handles sexual assault cases by removing the chain of command from the prosecutions.

Joined by a bipartisan group of her Senate colleagues today, Gillibrand announced that she and other senators are asking for the adjudication measure to be voted on as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act this month.

“We will continue to fight to strengthen our military because it’s our duty in our oversight role,” Gillibrand said. “It’s Congress' responsibility to act as if the brave survivors of sexual assault are our sons, our daughters, our husbands and our lives who are being betrayed by the greatest military on earth.

“The military has not been able to demonstrate that they have made a difference and they need to be held to the scrutiny and that standard this year,” she added. “The DOD has failed on this issue for 20 years and the scandals of the last 12 months show that they still don't get it.”

Former Air Force Chief Prosecutor Colonel Don Christensen joined the senators in advocating for a change in procedures, noting that “the system is set up for failure.”

The renewed push comes less than a year after Gillibrand’s measure failed in the Senate, falling five votes shy of the 60 needed to clear the first procedural. Gillibrand’s proposal, which would replace commanders with independent trained military lawyers in deciding whether to prosecute the accused, now has the support of 55 senators, including prominent Republicans like Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky.

“To me I’ve never quite understood why you would have to report something to your boss. If you had a problem at work, if you were in a corporation, you would not report to your boss, you'd go to the police,” Paul said. “In the military it's a little different but you still wouldn't want to go to your boss directly or you wouldn't want your boss to be making the decisions, particularly if your boss was buddies with the person who was the perpetrator. You would want it to be people you don't know outside the chain of command.”

Later this week, the Department of Defense is expected to release last year’s figures for the number of sexual assaults in the military. Additionally, the Pentagon will release a report commissioned by President Obama about how to deal with sexual assault within the military ranks.

Gillibrand says she has spoken with President Obama about the possibility of issuing an executive action to implement her measure. When asked whether she would consider placing a hold on the upcoming Secretary of Defense nominee in order to advance her proposal, Gillibrand said, “I will think about it.”