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Key Conservatives Back Sen. Gillibrand on Military Sexual Assault Bill

Key Conservatives Back Sen. Gillibrand on Military Sexual Assault Bill

July 16, 2013 — Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Ky.) on Tuesday will announce support for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-N.Y.) proposal to create a new prosecution system for military sexual assault cases, which might give Gillibrand the bipartisan support needed to pass the bill, Politico reports. The bill is not yet scheduled for floor debate, but senior Democratic aides say it might be considered in the final two weeks before the August recess.

Under Gillibrand's measure, military cases involving crimes punishable by more than one year of confinement would be removed from the chain of command. Although military leaders have emphasized their commitment to reducing sexual assaults in the ranks, they have lobbied against Gillibrand's idea, which they say would disrupt the command structure and military judicial system.

According to Politico, the measure seemed to be "picking up momentum" earlier this year amid increased attention to military sexual misconduct cases, but it failed to pass the Armed Services Committee in June. Gillibrand hopes the bill will fare better on the Senate floor among lawmakers with fewer ties to the military, Politico reports.

The measure already has 32 cosponsors, but the addition of Paul and Cruz "provides a powerful political message" that could help secure the 51 floor votes needed when the bill comes up for debate, according to Politico.

Tuesday Remarks

Paul and Cruz will join Gillibrand and the bill's other sponsors on Tuesday at a press conference at the Capitol to discuss their position. Paul spokesperson Moira Bagley said, "In the instance when one [military member] is accused of a serious crime, especially one of harassment or assault, the allegation needs to be taken seriously and conflicts of interest should not impact whether a crime is prosecuted properly."

Cruz in a statement pointed to military reform in other countries as a model for the U.S., noting, "Several of our strongest allies such as Israel, the United Kingdom and Germany have made similar reforms to their military justice systems, and seen marked improvement."

According to prepared remarks for Tuesday's event, Gillibrand will emphasize the "strong and growing bipartisan coalition" behind her proposal. "Our carefully crafted common sense proposal written in direct response to the experiences of those who have gone through a system rife with bias and conflict of interest is not a Democratic or Republican idea -- it is just the right idea," Gillibrand is expected to say (Samuelson, Politico, 7/16).

Report: Sexual Assaults in Military Sometimes Poorly Investigated

The U.S. military in some cases fails to fully investigate sexual assault allegations, including by failing to collect key evidence, fully examine the crime scene or interview key witnesses, according to a report released on Monday by the Pentagon's inspector general.

The review analyzed 501 criminal investigations in 2012 and found that investigators failed to collect key evidence from the crime scenes or victims in 11% of cases, while 89% of the cases met or exceeded investigative requirements. The review also found that 72% of investigations had less-serious flaws that did not usually have a negative effect on a case.

The report said part of the problem is that policies are inconsistent and investigators at times lack clear, mandatory directives about what do to at a crime scene. For example, it noted that investigators are not always required to collect clothing worn during or after an assault.

The process of preparing the report led to the reopening of 31 cases for additional work (Stewart, Reuters, 7/15).