Military Chiefs: Sex-Assault Bill Goes Too Far

Source: Craig Whitlock / The Washington Post

The nation’s military chiefs have told Congress in writing that they oppose or have strong reservations about a controversial bill that would reshape military law by taking sexual-assault cases out of the hands of commanders, setting up a likely clash with lawmakers who are pushing the idea.

In a rare joint appearance, the uniformed leaders of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, as well as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are scheduled to testify Tuesday before a Senate panel about what the Pentagon has described as an “epidemic” of sex crimes in the ranks. Lawmakers are floating a variety of bills to attack the problem but have not settled on a single approach.

The service chiefs, however, made clear in recent letters to the Senate panel’s leadership that they do not favor a leading proposal that would give uniformed prosecutors, instead of commanders, the authority to open criminal investigations into ­sexual-assault cases and bring them to trial. Such a change, they argued, would undermine the foundation of military culture by sending a message that commanders cannot be trusted to make good decisions.

“A commander is responsible and accountable for everything that happens in his or her unit,” Gen. James F. Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, said in a May 17 letter to Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and James H. Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Senate Armed Services Committee’s chairman and ranking Republican. “Victims need to know that their commander holds offenders accountable, not some unknown third-party prosecutor.”

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