McCain Disgusted With Military on Sexual Assault

At an Armed Services Committee hearing, McCain expressed "disgust and disappointment" with the continued issue of sexual assault in the military. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Former Navy Capt. and prisoner of war Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told a panel of uniformed military leaders on Tuesday that he could not "overstate" his "disgust and disappointment" over the continued problems regarding sexual assault in the armed services.

The Senate Armed Services Committee held a tense hearing with the leaders of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, as well as top brass of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to explore the issue and how they might remedy it legislatively. Though there was substantial disagreement between senators and military leaders, especially on the question of whether to remove the sexual assault reporting structure from the chain of command, perhaps no attack felt as personal as McCain's.

"Just last night a woman came to me and said her daughter wanted to join the military and could I give my unqualified support for her doing so. I could not," said the former GOP presidential nominee, who is a leader on military issues. "I cannot overstate my disgust and disappointment over the continued reports of sexual misconduct in our military. We've been talking about the issue for years and talk is insufficient.

"I would remind my colleagues that after the Vietnam War, at the end of the Vietnam War and after the aftermath, there [were] breakdowns in discipline, there was race riots on aircraft carriers, there was instances of fragging and ... tremendous racial unrest and tensions within our military. We addressed the issue ... and now I believe the military is our most effective equal opportunity employer. We must do that in the case of this crisis that we're facing now. Today we all agree that action has to be taken, and I hope this will build on that consensus."

Another touchstone moment of the hearing was when Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-WVa., asked if any single military leader appearing before the panel believed that reporting of serious crimes such as sexual assault should be removed from the chain of command. Not a single uniformed leader stepped forward to say "yes."

The Senate Armed Services Committee hearing is ongoing, and the panel will take up some form of legislation to deal with what members have labeled a "crisis." Those changes would be incorporated into Congress' annual National Defense Authorization Act.