Iraq war veteran and former congressman Col. Allen West (R-FL) has criticized Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) for supporting controversial legislation that would create a new independent system of military prosecutors to handle the prosecution of many serious crimes, including sexual assault. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, sponsored the legislation as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2014.
The bill, called the "Restore Justice in the Military" Act (S, 967), has met stiff opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and even from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and feminist committee member Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO).
The Armed Services Committee defeated the Gillibrand amendment in a 17-9 committee vote, with Senators Cruz and David Vitter (R-LA) on the losing side. Gillibrand's campaign nevertheless gained momentum in July when conservative senators Cruz and Paul appeared at a news conference together with liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to endorse the controversial bill. This article explains reasons why legislation that would strip from military commanders the power to make decisions regarding prosecutions of personnel committing major crimes would be problematic in the military:
Col. Allen West, a Tea Party favorite and member of the House Armed Services Committee during his one term in Congress, said he hopes other conservatives will not follow the Republicans' lead. In an interview with the Weekly Standard, Col. West criticized Gillibrand's amendment as "reprehensible" and "a slap in the face to those who have served in the military, those who are currently serving."
Sen. Paul has been known to have unusual opinions on national defense issues, but the surprising endorsement of Sen. Ted Cruz clashes with the Texas Republican's solid conservative record. According to Politico, Sen. Cruz justified his position by referring to several allied nations that, he claimed in a statement, have made similar reforms to their military justice systems and seen marked improvement.
The legal counsel to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff provided to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin information to the contrary. Countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia did not change their military legal systems in response to sexual assault cases, and there is no evidence that victims’ reports or successful prosecutions increased.
Legal proceedings are slower in five of six militaries surveyed, and none of the allied forces are comparable to America’s expeditionary forces, which conduct courts-martial in deployed environments.
Is Political Pressure Already Violating Due Process?
Excluding commanders from prosecution decisions in serious cases would not reduce incidents of sexual misconduct, or add anything to the many options that persons suffering abuse already have. Military prosecutors frequently pursue cases that civilian authorities would avoid. What the legislation could do is shift power to Pentagon feminists and pressure groups who demand their version of "justice" no matter what the evidence shows.
When political pressure from within the chain of command interferes with due process, justice can denied. What the military calls "command interference" has resulted in dismissals of scores of cases, due to violations of due process for the accused. In a recent example reported by the Marine Corps Times and Washington Times, Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos asked a military convening authority to "crush" junior Marines accused of desecrating Taliban corpses. Pressure such as this violates rights of due process − the only way to achieve true justice for all.
There are many good ideas for improving the military justice system in this sensitive area of law, including better training for sexual assault officers and legal advocates for both accusers and the accused. Instead of pursuing this and other common-sense solutions, some lawmakers demand drastic measures, implying that the military is full of predatory males, indifferent commanders, and fearful women who are incapable of taking action when threatened.
Instead of slandering military culture as an environment that encourages sexual abuse, while dismantling the military's legal system, policy makers should strengthen core values, guard due process, and lead by example.
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