Senator, Outside Group Push Back Against Military Sexual Assault Report

Susan Walsh/AP

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is pushing back on a new subcommittee report that recommends commanders keep their authority in sexual assault cases.

A majority of the Role of the Commander subcommittee said they didn't believe removing commanders' authority in military sexual-assault cases would boost sexual-assault reporting or reduce the number of sexual assaults.

"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 servicemembers deserve better," James Rahm, a spokesperson for the New York Democrat, said.

The subcommittee, which has nine members, was created as part of the Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel, established by the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.

And Protect Our Defenders, a military sexual-assault victims advocacy group, quickly hit back at the report.

"The 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," said Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish, in a statement."... This panel has so far decided to stand with the status quo and the hollow Pentagon promises of 'zero tolerance.'"

Only one of the nine, Elizabeth Hillman, a law professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, disagreed with the subcommittee's report, noting that commanders "are neither essential nor well-suited for their current role in the legal process of criminal prosecution."

Members of Congress have changed how the military deals with sexual-assault cases in the past few National Defense Authorization Acts, including removing a commander's ability to overturn jury convictions and requiring a civilian review if a commander decides against prosecuting.

The subcommittee's report suggests that more time is needed to see if such changes can create "meaningful improvements" before making a "systemic" change.

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