Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is calling for congressional action to reform the military justice system by removing prosecutorial discretion, including in cases of rape and sexual assault, from the military chain of command.
The Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013 would remove the prosecution of all crimes subject to one year or more in confinement from the military's chain of command, with the exception of crimes that are uniquely military in nature such as disobeying orders or going Absent Without Leave.
"It's clear there have been too many excuses on this issue for far too long, and in my view it's time for the excuses to stop." said Senator Feinstein. "People are finally understanding just how bad this epidemic of sexual assault has become in our armed forces."
According to a recent Defense Department report, an estimated 26,000 cases of sexual assault occurred in 2012, up from 19,000 incidents in 2010--a 37 percent increase. This includes 12,100 women assaulted (6.1 percent of women on active duty) and 13,900 men assaulted (1.2 percent of men on active duty).
A separate report released by the Defense Department last month showed more than 1 in 5 female servicemembers reported unwanted sexual contact while serving in the military.
Feinstein added: "We need a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault and violence in our armed forces, and that has to be supported by a separate judicial process that removes decisions on sexual assault cases from the military command structure. At a time when the military is seeking equality among the sexes, it is critical that the military lead by example."
The Military Justice Improvement Act:
Provides the offices of the military chiefs of staff with the authority and discretion to establish courts, empanel juries and choose judges to hear cases (i.e. convening authority).
Codifies Secretary Hagel's proposed changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice's Article 60 so that the convening authority may not (a) set aside a guilty finding or (b) change a finding of guilty to a lesser included offense.
Transfers prosecutorial discretion from commanding officers to independent military prosecutors.
Permits commanding officers to continue to order non-judicial punishment for offenses not directed to trial by the prosecutors.
Requires commanding officers to immediately report a sexual assault to the proper investigative authority.
Senator Feinstein is also a cosponsor of the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act of 2013, which provides additional protections and resources to victims of sexual assault as well as enhanced authority for the Sexual Assault and Prevention Response Office.
The Military Justice Improvement Act is sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) along with Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Coons (Del.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).