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Military Justice Improvement Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCAIN. I thank the Senator from Missouri. I want to profusely thank her and Senator Ayotte and Senator Fischer for their leadership on this very difficult and emotional issue which obviously is very unpleasant and very controversial and understandably so. We are talking about the livelihood, the right to function as members of the military, of women in the military.

It is a vital issue because there should be no organization that is at the level of the United States military for providing an equal opportunity and equal protection under the law than the United States military. When these young men and women join the military, they do something very unique; that is, they are willing to put their lives on the line for the defense of this country.

Therefore, because of this unique aspect of their lives, that they are willing to serve for the benefit of the rest of us, there is also the responsibility of those who command them. That is unique as well. Those who command in the military may have to make the toughest decision of all and to send these young people into harm's way. No other--no other--person in American society, outside of the President of the United States, has that responsibility.

So what we are really talking about today here is, will we hold those commanders responsible for anything that happens within their command or will we take that responsibility and shift it over to a lawyer? That is what this is really all about. Right now we have units operating in Afghanistan.

Frankly, according to the Gillibrand proposal, if there was a charge, we may have to try to find some way to fly a lawyer in. I do not think that is either likely or agreeable. But the major point here is that we hold commanders responsible for what happens under their command. If they do not carry out those duties, then we relieve them of that command. If they are responsible for egregious conduct, we prosecute them.

I have had the great honor of command. I have had the great honor of commanding, at that time, the largest squadron in the U.S. Navy, some 1,000 people. There were a large number of women in that organization, even then, because it was a shore-based squadron. Now we have women throughout--I am happy to say--throughout the military, including combat roles.

I can tell you that in those days we had severe racial problems in the United States military. We had race riots on aircraft carriers. We held commanders responsible. We punished those who practiced discrimination. We had people in our chain of command that alerted and were responsible for the indoctrination and the good conduct of people who in any way showed a taint of discrimination. I am happy to say that I believe that the greatest equal opportunity organization in America today is the United States military.

We can do that with this severe and difficult and emotional issue of sexual assaults in the military. The exact wrong way to do that is to make the commanding officer less responsible because if you take the responsibility from that commanding officer, then you are eroding his ability to lead and, I would argue, their ability to fight.

We have the finest commanders in our military. We have the finest men and women who are serving in the military. We are the best military in the world. There is a reason for it. As we bring people up the ladder of promotion to positions of command, they are tested time after time. I trust these commanders. I trust them.

With the provisions in the McCaskill bill as we have today, we will preserve that command authority, but we will also have significant increases in oversight and accountability. But to take away that responsibility from the men and women who command these people, these outstanding men and women, and give to it a lawyer is not the way to go.

I hope my colleagues understand it. I also would ask one other thing before this vote. If any of my colleagues knows a member of the military whom they respect, call them. Call them and ask them whether they would think this proposal of the Senator from New York is in any way helpful to the good functioning of the military and the elimination of sexual assaults. We share the same goal. There are vastly different ways to achieve that goal.

I yield the floor.


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