Following the lead of House lawmakers, the Senate Armed Services Committee has rejected a plan put forth by one of its own subcommittees to create an independent legal command to prosecute crimes carrying a potential sentence of a year or more in jail, including but not limited to rape, murder and sexual assault.
Senior military leaders argue that commanders must retain the authority to decide which cases are prosecuted, as well as the ability to overturn court-martial convictions, if they are to maintain good order and discipline.
Hogwash. Let’s look at how that’s working out right now: Out of more than 3,000 rapes and sexual assaults reported within the military each year, fewer than one in 10 cases goes to court-martial. Worse, the Pentagon’s own estimates suggest that only a fraction of cases are ever reported, and that the actual number of incidents of unwanted sexual contact approaches 26,000 each year.
So much for the current system ensuring good order and discipline. The fact is, most incidents go unreported precisely because victims do not believe the chain will take them seriously.
The Senate committee did approve some changes, such as requiring senior-officer reviews when a commander declines to prosecute a sexual assault. But that still leaves all decisions within the chain of command.
Commanders with zero legal training and expertise have more than enough to occupy them without having to try to be lawyers and judges overseeing criminal cases.
Disconnecting them from the legal process would eliminate inherent conflicts of interest and ensure justice is carried out purely on the merits of a case, rather than being colored by standing relationships, career concerns and fears of bad publicity.