Iraq War veteran Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, said she is “deeply disappointed” in Tuesday’s testimony from the Joint Chiefs about how to handle sexual assault cases.
Gabbard, a co-sponsor of legislation to create an independent military legal system to handle most serious criminal offenses that are not directly related to military discipline, is focusing on the Joint Chiefs’ testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee where they argued the military chain of command should retain authority over key decisions about rape and sexual assault cases, including whether allegations should be investigated and whether to order courts-martial.
“We must provide accountability, which includes ensuring an independent, transparent, fair process for all reports of sexual assault, outside of the chain of command,” Gabbard said.
Gabbard, who remains a member of the Hawaii National Guard, said it “sickens” her that violent crimes occur in the ranks. “This is absolutely unacceptable,” she said.
The chiefs’ reluctance to make sweeping changes in the military justice system comes despite repeated assurances from military leaders that they have no tolerance for rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment in the ranks.
Gabbard, however, noted that an average of 71 military members were sexually assaulted every day in 2012, according to the Defense Department’s own reports.
“It is our collective responsibility to bring an end to this epidemic, prosecute these offenders, and provide a safe environment for survivors of sexual assault, upholding the honor and integrity and that make our military strong,” she said.
The Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013, S 967, was initially introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel. The House version, HR 2016, is sponsored by Rep. Dan Benishek, D-Mich.