Military Chiefs Voice Opposition to Sweeping New Sex Assault Rules

Mike O'Brien

The Pentagon’s top brass aired their opposition to plans to remove commanders' discretion to overturn decisions to prosecute troops and throw out their convictions.

Addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff admitted in prepared testimony that the service had "failed in our efforts to date to protect" soldiers and civilians from sexual assault and harassment.

But he said that removing the authority of commanders to handle sexual,assault cases will make them less accountable and affect unit discipline.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey (pictured), chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed those sentiments.

He said: "The commander's responsibility to preserve order and discipline is essential to affecting change.

"They punish criminals and protect victims when and where no other jurisdiction is capable, or lawfully able to do so. Commanders are accountable for all that goes on in a unit. Ultimately, they are responsible for mission success."

The members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were facing a committee on which seven female senators sit. The committee has grown inctreasingly angry at the sexual assault scandals that have plagued the military in recent weeks.

A Pentagon report in May showed the estimated number of victims of sexual assault last year jumped to 26,000, up from 19,000 in 2010. But only 3,374 cases were reported, indicating that many victims stay silent out of fear that they could face retribution.

The committee has drawn up seven pending bills to deal with sexual assault in the military, the most far-reaching being one put forward Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who chairs the sub-committee on personnel matters.

Among the rules put forward to combat the rash of violence is a measure to prohibit commanders from nullifying or changing a sexual assault conviction. The bill introduced by Ms. Gillibrand would require any charges to be handled outside the victim’s chain of command.

However, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee urged caution. Sen. Jim Inhofe said: "While we should not wait to provide additional tools that could make a difference immediately, we've got to be deliberate in making fundamental changes."

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