Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., doubled down on his Tuesday commitment to push a bill dealing with the growing controversy over military sexual assaults.
In a letter to Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and ranking member James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., Reid urged the duo to use the Defense Department authorization bill as a vehicle for changing the military's system for dealing with sexual assaults.
Reid advocated eliminating the current setup where senior officials can unilaterally overturn military jury verdicts of convicted sex offenders, but he also went further.
"I believe we should examine whether there are other tools to improve the military justice system’s effectiveness in identifying and prosecuting perpetrators," Reid wrote. That's not exactly an endorsement of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's bill to take the reporting of sexual assaults out of the chain of command, but the New York Democrat certainly has reason to be encouraged.
The full letter after the jump:
The Honorable Carl Levin The Honorable James Inhofe
Chairman Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Armed Services Senate Committee on Armed Services
228 Russell Senate Office Building 228 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20510
Dear Chairman Levin and Ranking Member Inhofe:
I followed with great interest the discussion in the Armed Services Committee’s hearing yesterday about the extremely troubling and persistent incidence of sexual assault within the United States Armed Services. I commend you for the attention you have brought to the issue, and for your ongoing efforts to confront it.
As you know, the Defense Department’s Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, released yesterday, concluded that the number of victims of sexual assault in the military has increased by over one-third in just two years, and that roughly 70 service members are victimized each day in our Armed Forces. These findings are alarming and enraging.
We must hold the perpetrators of these horrible acts accountable. Failure to do so would be a betrayal of our national values and of the men and women serving in our military. As President Obama rightly stated, when “we find out somebody's engaging in this stuff, they've got to be held accountable. Prosecuted, stripped out of their positions, court martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period. It's not acceptable.”
Your committee has worked persistently over many years to prevent and punish sexual assault in the military. Yesterday’s report, however, makes it clear that more must be done. Several Senators, including Senators McCaskill and Gillibrand, have proposed measures to combat military sexual assault that deserve consideration. As you prepare the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014, I strongly urge you to include additional legislation to ensure justice for victims of sexual assault in the military and to prevent these horrific acts against service members in the future.
Specifically, I urge you to eliminate the ability of military commanders to arbitrarily reverse convictions under the Uniform Code for Military Justice for sexual assault. This authority, which can currently be exercised without any stated reason or regard for the merits of a case, cannot continue to be an impediment to accountability and justice. Moreover, I believe we should examine whether there are other tools to improve the military justice system’s effectiveness in identifying and prosecuting perpetrators. Finally, I agree with Secretary Hagel that we must hold commanding officers accountable and ensure that they establish a climate in which sexual assault is not tolerated, and I urge you to examine whether legislation can assist in that regard.
I know you share my commitment to stopping sexual assault in the military, and it is thanks to your efforts in recent years that the Defense Department has made some important strides in recognizing and confronting the problem. I look forward to working with you to take additional, urgently needed steps as your prepare the Defense Authorization Act. Please do not hesitate to contact me if there is anything I can do to help in this regard.