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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript - Military and Sexual Assault

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MATTHEWS: Wow.

We`re back.

And that was disturbing and emotional testimony earlier today at the United
States Senate Armed Service Subcommittee hearing on sexual assault in the
military. Many may think that only women are the victim of sexual assault
in the military, but often men are as well as we just heard. And as you
saw in that clip, some 3,000 sexual assault cases were reported in 2011.
But the Defense Department estimates the number of actually incidents is
six times that, closer to 19,000.

Now, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is ordering a review of rules that give
commanders the authority to overturn sexual assault convictions by military
juries.

With me now is New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who chairs the Armed
Services Subcommittee.

And, Anu Bhagwati, she`s with the Service Women`s Action Network.
Let me start with the senator.

Senator, this idea that someone who`s taken an oath to the United States to
protect this country and uses perhaps, people under him or under her, as
sexual opportunities that they can exploit because of their command
situation, this is something that is new? Or is it just newly understood?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: It`s not new, that`s for sure.
Chris, we have the greatest military in the world and I`m grateful for the
courage of those who served. But in these instances, we`re talking about
predators. They`re criminals who are targeting their victims and we`re
talking about 19,000 sexual assaults and rapes each year, more than half
against men.

And of that, only 2,400 are actually reported. Of that, only 240 go to
trial. And of that, only about 190 are actually convicted.

So you`re talking about one in 100 convictions for these kinds of crimes.
And, you know, what we`re looking for in this hearing is we`re looking for
a way to make sure that justice is served. Because we have to change the
dynamics, we have did change the culture, we have to make it possible for
men and women who are victims to actually report these cases so we can
have conviction rates increase and have more accountability.

MATTHEWS: Well, Anu Bhagwati, thank you for joining us.
Give me a sense of what it`s like, the atmosphere. Is it injustice? Is it
just big-shot men lording it over women and covering up for bad, in fact
criminal, behavior?

ANU BHAGWATI, SERVICE WOMEN`S ACTION NETWORK: I think military
culture is about a generation behind where civilian culture is on issues of
rape, sexual harassment, sexual assault in the workplace. When you really
have an insular system that isolates service members from outside forms
of redress that really intimidates the survivor, even I would say in a bigger
way than even civilian victims, because you`re often operating wind your
chain of command. It`s a hierarchal system in which you`re intimidated
often times by those who outrank you.

The vast majority of these 19,000 victims are junior enlisted. Just over
half of them are male actually. So it`s not a women`s issue.
And, universally, what we know is that victims feel like they`re not
getting their fair shot at justice. They`re either retaliated against with
false diagnoses like personality disorders, they`re drummed out of the
military, they`re demoted. While their senior perpetrator is promoted,
given command, maybe transferred out of the unit without any form of --

MATTHEWS: Why? Can you give me the motive? Explain it to the outside
who haven`t been in the military. Why would they cover up -- I don`t mean
whistling at a girl that walks by or something that might be bad behavior,
even gross behavior, but not criminal.

Let`s talk about criminal cases where somebody`s physically assaulted or
raped even. Why would anybody cover that up? Physical assault is a
criminal matter, it`s a serious criminal matter. They put you in jail for
years if you do it in civilian life. Why do they cover up that part of it?
That`s what I don`t get.

Well, that`s a great question and I think that needs to be asked directly
to the military. I saw it myself as a company commander where my senior
commanders swept these cases under the rug, swept the rape cases, sexual
assault cases, and sexual harassment cases, routinely under the rug. I
think it`s for self-protection, I think there`s careerism in the officer
ranks, there`s a huge desire to protect oneself and move on.

Listen, I love the Marines, the military is a great military, but we have a
serious problem with the treatment of women in particular. And also rape
mythology, victim blaming, you know, which we see throughout society as
well, but in that insulated system where you really have nowhere to go, you
can`t quit your job, you`re really stuck with the outcome the commander
provides.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- at the heart of it.

Let me go back to the senator about corrections here.

GILLIBRAND: Yes.

MATTHEWS: It seems to me, if it`s a culture, it`s hard to deal with a
culture, you set rules and you teach people as they get trained -- first of
all, I don`t understand -- I have to tell you, I don`t get it. A rape is a
rape. It used to be a capital crime in part of the United States. You
don`t kid around, you don`t cover up, you don`t hang around anybody
who`s raped anybody. You don`t do business with them.
Why would anybody say that`s the old boy and protect a person who`s
committed almost a capital crime? Why would you protect a guy like that?

GILLIBRAND: Well, one thing we`re trying to change, Chris, which
addresses that problem is right now, there`s this thing called a convening
authority, be a general up the chain of command who has the decision-making
authority to decide whether an allegation goes forward to an investigation and
to a trial.

And our view is that general, that commanding officer, isn`t necessarily
trained in rape, isn`t trained in legal theory, isn`t trained in prosecutorial
discretion.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

GILLIBRAND: So that convening authority is creating a, let`s just say,
it`s a narrowing aspect where not enough cases are actually proceeding.
And then, even worse than that we have an example of this in the Aviano
(ph) case, where the convening authority had the opportunity to look at a
jury`s verdict that had convicted this perpetrator and actually overturned
it. Not having reviewed the evidence. Not having heard the testimony, but
just looking at some clemency letters.

It`s disgraceful if you can have a system where there`s no accountability.

MATTHEWS: OK, one last question. What percentage of men in the military
or women in response are evil in this regard? Ten percent? Can you tell
one out of 10? Or it`s a lot worse than that? One of 100?

BHAGWATI: I would say it`s a very small percentage. The point is though
that they`re serial predators. You don`t just rape once.

MATTHEWS: Oh, got you.

BHAGWATI: You rape several times, and the lack of accountability just
encourages these serial predators.

MATTHEWS: Well-said. Thank you so much for that information. We`re
going to have to see something get done. Senator, we trust you to get
something done, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

And Anu Bhagwati, thank you, I know you`re a victim as well.

When we return, let me finish with a big surprise out of the Vatican
tonight. A pope committed to social justice. This is going to be great, I
think.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

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