The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved major changes in the way the military deals with sexual assault cases. Senator McCaskill, a member of the committee, calls them “historic provisions.”
Commanding officers who block prosecutions of members of their unit for sexual assault, or who overturn a jury’s guilty verdict, have been targets of Senator McCaskill’s legislation for months. The Defense Authorization Bill going to the full Senate lets commanders decide if prosecution should go ahead but gives the military prosecutor room to appeal that decision to the civilian who heads that branch of the service. And it says any service member convicted would, at the least, be dismissed from the service or given a dishonorable discharge. Commanders would have to justify in writing any changes in a court martial verdict.
The committee also wants any retaliation against a victim to be a crime. And it prohibits commanders from considering a service member’s military character in deciding whether that person should be tried.
McCaskill’s provisions are similar to some of the provisions in a half-dozen other amendments suggested for the bill.
The House is working on its own authorization bill. It also has sexual assault language in it.