Mr. President, this is a sad day for the Senate. What does it say about this body that after having seen so many brave survivors of sexual assault in the military walk through the halls of this Congress for over a year now, we can't even give them the decency of a debate on the reform they so deeply believe in--a reform they believe in so deeply that they have selflessly retold their stories, reliving some of the worst moments of their lives, all so, hopefully, someone else doesn't have to suffer what they did. They may not wear the uniform anymore, but no one can tell me they aren't still serving their country through their sacrifice. Yet we can't even agree to vote for moving forward to debate the issue? They deserve a vote. The men and women who serve in our Armed Forces deserve a vote.
Anyone who has been listening has heard over and over from survivors of sexual assaults in the military how the deck has been stacked against them. For two full decades the Defense Department has been unable to uphold its continued failed promises of zero tolerance for sexual assault. But when the Senate can't even agree to debate the one reform that survivors have consistently said is needed to solve this crisis, we are telling those victims the deck is stacked against them right here in the Senate as well.
Last month this Congress rushed with great speed to remove a reduction in military pensions not slated to begin until 2015--a fix I fully supported. Legislative action was swift, and it was just. But I ask: Where is the same urgency to help stem the crisis of military sexual assault--an epidemic that is happening today? How is it we can't wait another week to stop a COLA reduction in pensions, but a reform that will lead to more rapists and predators behind bars waits indefinitely. We have been waiting for 20 years now--all the way back to 1992, when Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney stated zero tolerance in the wake of Tailhook.
As many of my colleagues likely saw, the Associated Press revealed new evidence last month that took years of freedom of information requests to obtain. After reviewing the documents from Okinawa, Japan, the AP described the handling of cases as ``chaotic,'' where commanders overruled recommendations to prosecute or dropped charges altogether.
Among the AP's findings: ``Victims increasingly declined to cooperate with investigators or recanted--a sign they may have been losing confidence in the system.''
If that sounds familiar, it is because that is a fact that today's military leaders openly admit themselves. As Commandant of the Marine Corps James Amos put it:
Why wouldn't female victims come forward. Because they don't trust us. They don't trust the chain of command. They don't trust the leadership.
That is what we have a chance to fix right here today, but we are letting it pass us by because some here believe it is not even worthy of debate.
This was never about being a Democratic idea or a Republican idea. It is just about doing what is right. People of good faith from both sides of the aisle, from both parties, can unite to deliver an independent, objective, and nonbiased military justice system that is worthy of the sacrifice the men and women in uniform make every day. It has taken us a long time to get to this point--too long, in fact. Every day we wait is another day the deck remains stacked against sexual assault victims in our military--another day when, statistically, it is estimated that over 70 incidents of unwanted sexual contact occur, and nearly nine out of 10 go unreported.
Nowhere else in America would we allow a boss to decide if an employee was sexually assaulted, except in the U.S. military.
The men and women of our military deserve to have unbiased, trained military prosecutors reviewing their cases and making the ultimate decision about whether to go to trial solely on the merits of the evidence. They deserve a fair shot at justice today, not after another year of a system that is broken under any metric. They deserve a vote that a bipartisan majority of the Senate supports, and they deserve that vote now.