U.S. military challenged on sexual assault as Congress weighs laws

WASHINGTON Tue Jun 4, 2013 11:54pm IST

U.S. military generals testify about pending legislation regarding sexual assaults in the military at a Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 4, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. military generals testify about pending legislation regarding sexual assaults in the military at a Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 4, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

Related Topics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawmakers admonished America's top military officers over sexual assault in the armed forces on Tuesday, but top brass warned against a plan in Congress to take the cases out of the hands of commanders.

The Senate hearing comes after a wave of sexual assault scandals and new Pentagon data showing a steep rise in unwanted sexual contact, from groping to rape, that have deeply embarrassed the military and prompted lawmakers to try to impose change with new legislation.

"You have lost the trust of the men and women who rely on you that you will actually bring justice in these cases," said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York.

Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, said he could not "overstate my disgust and disappointment" over the continued reports of sexual misconduct.

The top uniformed officers of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard sat in a line, listening silently, as did the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the top attorneys from each service.

The exceptional display underscored how the problem of sexual assault, which has been around for years, appears to have exhausted the patience of lawmakers.

"My years of experience in this area tell me they are committing crimes of domination and violence. This isn't about sex," said Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri and a former prosecutor who handled sex crimes.

The chiefs appeared to lend their support to an April proposal by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that would curb a key power of commanders - their ability to alter verdicts in courts-martial for major crimes like murder or sexual assault.

But they objected to Gillibrand's proposal, which would take responsibility for prosecuting sex crimes out of the victim's chain of command altogether and given to special prosecutors.

"The legislation ... is absolutely the wrong direction to go," said General James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps.

General Raymond Odierno, Army chief of staff, cautioned against any rush to create new laws overhauling the military justice system, saying "we cannot simply legislate our way out of this problem."

VAGUE DATA

A study the Defense Department released in May estimated that cases of unwanted sexual contact in the military, from groping to rape, rose 37 percent in 2012, to about 26,000 cases, from 19,000 the previous year.

Lawmakers scorned top brass for failing to break down that data.

"Unwanted sexual contact is everything from somebody looking at you sideways when they shouldn't to someone pushing you up against the wall and brutally raping you," McCaskill said.

Outrage in recent months has been fanned by a series of cases of alleged sexual assault across the military. This includes accusations leveled against military officials whose job it was to defend victims of sexual assault.

There has also been growing concern about how the military justice system itself works.

In one high-profile case, a senior U.S. military commander in Europe set aside the sexual assault conviction of an Air Force officer, throwing out his one-year prison term and dismissal from the service.

"It's almost intolerable that we can continue on this current path by allowing the commanders to be in charge at the level they are," said Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia.

Gillibrand went further, saying that there was still discrimination in the armed forces and that not every commander wanted women in the military.

"Not every commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and rape," she said.

(Editing by Alistair Bell and Philip Barbara; editing by Prudence Crowther)

FILED UNDER:
Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

Fighting the Islamic State

Students take part in a demonstration as one of them holds pictures of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (L) and founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini outside the former U.S. embassy in Tehran November 4, 2010. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/Files

Iran supreme leader blames West for Islamic State rise, wants regional solution

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed Western powers on Tuesday for the rise of Islamic State (IS) insurgents in Iraq and Syria and said they had no business tampering with the region's geopolitics.  Full Article 

REUTERS SHOWCASE

HK Protests

HK Protests

Hong Kong protesters plan march after fruitless talks with government.  Full Article 

Double Murder

Double Murder

Thailand tourist murder suspects retract confessions.  Full Article 

Rousseff in Lead

Rousseff in Lead

Brazil's Rousseff pulls ahead of Neves before Sunday's election - poll.  Full Article 

Indonesia Cabinet

Indonesia Cabinet

Indonesia president to make new cabinet picks after 8 rejected.  Full Article 

Fighting Ebola

Fighting Ebola

J&J aims for 1 million Ebola vaccine doses in 2015.  Full Article 

Baghdad Bombing

Baghdad Bombing

Baghdad restaurant bombs kill 21  Full Article 

Canada On Alert

Canada On Alert

Canada raises terrorism threat level, cites Islamist chatter.  Full Article 

Foreign Threat?

Foreign Threat?

Sweden gets two new sightings, as hunt for undersea intruder goes on.  Full Article 

Iran Nuclear Talks

Iran Nuclear Talks

Exclusive: Iran offers "compromises" in nuclear talks, West unmoved  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage