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Grassley speaks in support of independent military justice system

Justice 1By The Iowa Statesman

 

Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) took to the Senate floor to speak in support of the Military Justice Improvement Act amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The amendment would establish an independent military justice system to address sexual assault in the armed forces.

The following is the text of his prepared remarks.

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I would like to again add my voice in support of Senator Gillibrand’s reforms to the Military Justice System.  Senator Gillibrand has been a great leader on this issue.  I admire her passion and dogged pursuit of justice.  Last year, when I spoke in favor of this measure, I made the point that this was not a new issue that required further study or incremental reforms. We had been hearing promises for years and years that there would be zero tolerance and a real crack down on military sexual assault.

Last year, the National Defense Authorization Act included a lot of commonsense reforms.  But, it did not include any fundamental reform of the military justice system.  We were told to give these new adjustments to the current system a chance to work, and come back next year.  At the time, I made the point that we had already tried working within the current system, to no avail.

I am not one to advocate for a major, sweeping reform if less will address the problem.  But, what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked.  Last year, after Congress passed the package of more modest reforms, but not our Military Justice Improvement Act amendment, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, said, “We’ve been given about a year to demonstrate both that we will treat this with the urgency that it deserves, and that we can turn the trend lines in a more positive direction.”

He made clear that if we didn’t see real progress, he wouldn’t stand in the way of more major reforms.  Well, we have not seen any significant movement.  In terms of the number of sexual assault cases, and the shocking rate of retaliation against those who report, we simply don’t see progress.  That’s probably because the current system is part of the problem.

The fact that victims of sexual assault cannot turn to an independent system to get justice, combined with the very real fear of retaliation, acts as a terrible deterrent to reporting sexual assault.   If sexual assault cases are not reported, they cannot be prosecuted.  If sexual assault isn’t prosecuted, it leads to predators remaining in the military and a perception that it is tolerated.

By allowing this situation to continue, we are putting at risk the men and women who have volunteered to place their lives on the line.  We are also seriously damaging military morale and readiness.  Taking prosecutions out of the hands of commanders and giving them to professional prosecutors who are independent of the chain of command will help ensure impartial justice for the men and women of our armed forces.

This would in no way take away the ability of commanders to punish troops under their command for military infractions.  Commanders also can and should be held accountable for the climate under their command.

But, the point here is the sexual assault is a law enforcement matter – not a military one.  This isn’t some reform that came out of the blue either.  An advisory committee appointed by the Secretary of Defense himself came out in support of our reforms.

On September 27, 2013, the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services voted overwhelmingly in support of each of the components of the Military Justice Improvement Act Amendment.  DACOWITS was created in 1951 by then Secretary of Defense, George C.  Marshall.

The Committee is composed of civilian and retired military women and men who are appointed by the Secretary of Defense to provide advice and recommendations on matters and policies relating to the recruitment and retention, treatment, employment, integration, and well-being of highly qualified professional women in the Armed Forces. Historically, DACOWITS’ recommendations have been very instrumental in effecting changes to laws and policies pertaining to military women.

The bottom line is, this isn’t some advocacy group or fly by night panel.  It’s a longstanding advisory committee handpicked by the Secretary of Defense and it supports the substance of our amendment to a tee. We’ve tried reforming the current system and it didn’t work.  When we are talking about something as serious and life altering as sexual assault, we cannot afford to wait any longer.  I urge my colleagues to join us in supporting the Military Justice Improvement Act amendment.