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Panel approves pilot program to take military sex assault cases outside chain of command

Jason Dick, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- Advocates of taking the decision for prosecuting military sexual assaults -- a persistent problem within the ranks -- outside the chain of command scored a significant victory Wednesday when the House Armed Services Committee approved a pilot program that would do just that at the service academies.

Rep. Jackie Speier, chairwoman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee, pushed through a four-year program that would require the commandants of the service academies to follow the recommendation of an independent prosecutor in cases of sexual assault.

The language triggered familiar objections from Republicans about removing such cases from the chain of command, but ultimately prevailed on a mostly party-line vote.

Debate on Speier's language marked the beginning of the contentious portion of the marathon markup of the massive Pentagon policy bill.

Speier's amendment would authorize a special prosecutor to handle sexual assaults at the military academies, marking her first legislative victory in her yearslong effort to take the decision for prosecuting these crimes out of the chain of command.

"The number of sexual assaults at the military service academies has more than doubled -- I repeat, doubled -- from 327 to 747 (from) 2013 to 2018," Speier said. "Over that time, reporting rates decreased from 16% to 12%."

 

Speier's proposal would require the commandants of the service academies to accept the determinations of an outside prosecutor in cases of sexual assault. But removing these cases from the chain of command has been suggested before, and the idea has proved controversial both on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon.

Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio, countered with a substitute amendment that would require a comprehensive review of the role of the chain of command in sex-related offenses. His substitute mirrored language in the Senate's version of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Cadets and students could build a constitutional argument that they are treated differently than others in the military, he said.

"You start changing the criminal code, you start having cascading effects," he said.

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