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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 KING. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. I have to say, first, as a newcomer to the Senate and to this committee, this is one of the most impressive discussions I have been engaged in since I have been here. And this is the way these important decisions are supposed to be made with passionate and well-conceived arguments on all sides.

I find this a very tough call. I have gone back and forth, as Senator Gillibrand well knows as we have discussed this issue over the past several weeks. There is a natural tendency of any hierarchy, of any hierarchical organization to protect itself first, and I think that is an instinct, whether it is the Army or any other similar kind of organization. And that makes this a particularly tough call.

Another preliminary comment I want to make is I think it is really important that we focus on the fact that this is part of a package, and that there is a long list of initiatives in this bill, in the personnel bill and in the amendments, the 10 amendments that
we adopted today, and all the controversy is about 1. And it should not take either our eyes or the public's eyes off the fact that this is the most comprehensive approach to dealing with this issue that, in my knowledge, has ever been taken by Congress. So I think that is a very important point of context.

Next, to me, the most--may turn out to be the most important part of your amendment is the retaliation section. I think that is what is one of the major things that is driving people not reporting. And the data is--they did not say we are not reporting because of
the chain of command. They say we are not reporting because of fear of retaliation or because we do not think anything is going to be done. It is unclear. You can interpret the data in different ways. But clearly retaliation is part of the problem.

And at our hearing last week when we had the second panel with the officers who were actually hearing these cases, one of the witnesses actually testified and answered some questions that he believed that right now the more likely sort of grass roots response
is some kind of retaliation against the complainant instead of against the perpetrator. And I thought that was a very damning, but honest, statement.

Ultimately, Mr. Chairman, I am going to support your amendment because I believe that in any organization, the leader sets the tone. And that is what we are talking about here is tone and culture. And if you take the commander of the unit out of the equation, then, as Senator Kaine mentioned, you are sending a message that we do not trust these folks. But also basically that commander then can say, okay, this is not my problem anymore, and we want it to be their problem. And I think that the engagement of the leader of the group, whatever level, is a terribly important part of the solution of this problem.

The target is the failure to report, and I think if we can establish that retaliation itself is an offense, that, I believe, will be a very important contribution in addition to the safeguards that are the heart of your proposal that this will--there will be an alternative
route if the decision is negative.

And finally, I think Senator Cruz said something very important, and I was thinking it and trying to figure out how I was going to put it, but you put it very eloquently. This is a test. This is not the end of this story. And I realize there is a long history to this,
and it is no satisfactory to victims to say, well, we are going to try something for two years and see if it works. I think this is a very far reaching, comprehensive, and strong proposal. But if it does not work, if it we do not see an improvement, if we do not see higher levels of reporting and a change in the culture, then I think this committee is going to have very little option but to change fundamentally the ways these matters are handled. In a sense, I see this as a last chance for the chain of command to get it right.
And for all those reasons--again, I will go back to the beginning--I consider this a very tough and close call, but I think we have done something important here today. I commend Senator Gillibrand. I am so admiring of her passion and energy on this
issue, and I do not think there is any question that we would not be where we are had she not been so strong on this. But on the other hand, I commend the chair and others who listened to both sides and found a solution that I think is creative and will be effective.

I will support your amendment.

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