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Hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee - Markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014


Location: Washington, DC

Senator AYOTTE. I want to thank the chairman. I want to thank my colleague, Senator Gillibrand from New York, for her passion and leadership on this issue and really in the Personnel Subcommittee having hearings early on that I think drove our understanding and a much better understanding of the public of the seriousness of this issue. And I think that is why we find all of ourselves here today with an agreement that the status quo is absolutely unacceptable for our military and for our country.

And I very much also want to thank Senator McCaskill for bringing her experience in prosecuting these types of crimes to bear in addressing this important issue.

I too was a prosecutor before coming here, and one thing that has struck me in all of this is I feel, from having the hearings that Senator Gillibrand championed, as well as the chairman had, that the military has been far too behind on this from work that has been done in the civilian side and the prosecution, including how victims of sexual assault are supported within those systems.

In looking at this issue of how we deal with the initial charge and speaking as well to the commanders, as well as those who are at the colonel level, to have responsibility for whether or not they would make the decision as a dispositional authority on these types of cases, I believe firmly that the agreement, whether it was--certainly the work that has been done, that if there is a disagreement between the JAG and the commanding officer, that it will go up to the civilian authority in each force, that everything within this military is driven by the chain of command. And ultimately, we
have to make sure, if commanders are not taking their responsibility for zero tolerance within their unit, that they are measured by that. And I think that bringing it up to the secretary of the service level will bring this to the highest levels of knowing that not
only is it your responsibility to make sure that these cases are handled properly, that victims are fully supported, but that if you, within your unit, do not make zero tolerance a priority and do not have accountability for it, then you will be measured by that. And
as Senator Reed said, you will be fired. You will lose your commanding authority. And I think by bringing this situation up to the Secretary of Service level, it brings it to the seriousness which it deserves.

So I will support the chairman of the committee on this issue.

But I want to also touch upon something that Senator McCaskill said that our military leaders need to understand. We are giving you more responsibility here, more accountability. In other words, we are not going to let you off the hook on this, and this is not something that we are going to pass something on here today and forget about because many of us, we hope, will continue to serve on this committee. We will expect to understand how the system is working. We will expect to hear real metrics back as to whether victims can come forward, how many victims are coming forward, how they are treated within the system. And this will not be the last time you will hear from Congress on this issue because it is not going to be again where we pass something and then 10 years later the issue comes up again or 2 years later. We will continue
to have an oversight function on this on a continual basis, on a bipartisan basis to make sure that whatever is passed by this committee today to give the strongest laws that we can in place to make sure that this zero tolerance issue does go to the absolute
culture of this military.

And I am married to an Iraq War veteran. And nothing has offended him more than knowing the scourge of sexual assault within our military. And I know that our men and women who serve every single day, most of them incredibly honorably--nothing offends them more that there would be this type of behavior within our military.

So I thank the chairman. I want to thank Senator Gillibrand for her leadership, Senator McCaskill, all of you who have worked so hard on this.

And I will be supporting what the chairman has done, and I think that this will make sure that the leadership within the military and the commanders are not let off the hook, that we will continue to make sure that they are held accountable, not just in this
defense authorization but as we do our oversight function next year and through the summer and as this thing continues.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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