U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the daughter of a World War II veteran, today released the following statement on the announcement by the Department of Defense that they are seeking to eliminate a commander's authority to modify the findings of a court-martial:
"This is a big win for survivors of sexual assault in the military, and for the causes of justice and accountability. A commander who has not listened to the testimony should not be able to unilaterally overturn a jury verdict or change an offender's sentence without explanation-and it's great news that Secretary Hagel agrees. I look forward to working with the Secretary and others to pass this crucial legislation that prevents this kind of abuse of authority."
In response to a recent sexual assault case at Aviano Air Base in Italy, McCaskill grilled military leaders in two Senate hearings, and subsequently introduced legislation that would curtail the authority of military commanders to dismiss jury convictions against sex offenders. McCaskill's bill would also require written justifications when sentences are lessened or commuted, a requirement also endorsed today by Secretary Hagel.
McCaskill previously took action to respond to reports of sexual assault occurring at Fort Leonard Wood that were detailed in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigation. McCaskill won inclusion of provisions in the 2012 and 2013 National Defense Authorization Acts designed to improve the military's response to sexual assault and encourage the services to adopt training for sexual assault investigators developed at the Army's Military Police School at Fort Leonard Wood.