The military might not like what Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand is doing, but a couple of the Senate’s most conservative members do and so, we suspect, do thousands of women serving in the military, along with their families.
Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is refusing to concede defeat in her passionate representation of victims of sexual assault in the military. The Armed Services Committee last month rejected her plan to vest the decision to prosecute these crimes in trained military lawyers rather than the commanders who now make those decisions.
The current system intimidates victims and, in so doing, clearly doesn’t work. Yet Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the committee’s chairman, insists that the power remain in the chain of command, arguing – preposterously – that “If you remove the chain of command, you are taking away the club that they need to change the culture.”
It’s not true. First of all, the chain of command has shown no perceptible interest in changing the culture. Secondly, there is nothing stopping it from doing so even if the decision to prosecute is taken away from them.
Now, Gillibrand is back and she has with her two prominent tea party Republicans: Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Both have publicly endorsed her approach for its substance and for her new way of pursuing it. She plans now to bring her bill up on the floor of the Senate as an amendment to the necessary defense authorization bill.
The support of Cruz and Paul could make the critical difference. Their backing is likely to give other Republicans the cover they need to support a measure that, as Gillibrand said, is neither Democratic nor Republican. Rather, she said, “It is a good idea that meets the needs of the victims, creates transparency and accountability, and creates the needed objectivity that this issue deserves.”
She is right and it is puzzling that both the military brass and Levin can’t see that – unless their problem is with transparency, accountability and objectivity. Clearly, there is a crisis within the military, and one that the military has been loathe to confront.
A recent Pentagon report estimated that while there were 26,000 sexual assaults in the military last year, victims reported only 3,374 of them and only about 300 cases went to trial. Unless the point is to disincentivize women from joining the military – a possibility that shouldn’t be discounted – those statistics document the need for a new approach.
This issue is also raising Gillibrand’s stature within the Senate and making her better known around the country. That’s a political consideration that may benefit her and, potentially, her constituents, but the main thing is that she and her Republican supporters are standing up for the victims. That is as it should be.