By Robert Schlesinger |
Our society’s history of emergent cultural change over the past 70 years, informed by military experience, provides reason for optimism as well as enduring civilian oversight.
Vigilance and oversight, in that no institution blocks change so consistently as the military; confidence and optimism, in that no institution on earth tackles change, when directed to do so, as successfully as the U.S. military.
The current issue under debate is whether military
commanders or independent military legal prosecutors should exercise decision authority to prosecute felony crimes punishable
by over one year confinement.
Last June, the military brass lined up its formidable presence on Capitol Hill and voiced its unanimous opposition to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s, D-N.Y., proposed legislation requiring the Department of Defense to transfer command decision authority to a trained independent legal professional, asserting that such action would undermine good order and discipline. Remarkably, this argument mirrors military opposition to change over the past three generations with respect to racial parity, gender integration and relational equality. It is a matter of history that, in all three domains, pessimistic forecasts portending catastrophic impact were simply wrong.
In the intervening months, 54 Senators have pledged their bipartisan support for the Gillibrand bill, including Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rand Paul, R-Ky. Whether an additional six Senators come forward to thwart a potential filibuster is yet unknown. What is certain is that this issue will not go away.
In short, should trained independent assessment of evidence guide the decision to prosecute serious felony crimes such as rape or should this decision remain with unit commanders whose position of authority with respect to the accused and/or the accuser represents a fixed conflict of interest, whether actual or perceived.?
Here are a few voices to consider:
-- Jo Ann Rooney (Undersecretary of the Navy)
-- Sarah Plummer (Marine veteran and survivor of military rape)
-- Patrick Murphy (Army Judge Advocate General officer deployed to Iraq in 2003-4 and former Congressman)
-- Jeh Johnson (former Pentagon General Counsel 2009-2012)
-- Paul Cronan (Director-General, Australian Defence Force Legal Service)
In summary, it is clear that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and
his service secretaries and chiefs have plenty of work to do. Given the
relentless outbreaks of fraud, deceit, misconduct and myriad other
dishonorable actions exposed in recent weeks and months, it would seem that the
Gillibrand bill would present a timely opportunity to pivot towards building a
culture of good order and discipline supported by evidence and characterized by
justice for both the accused and the accuser.
With all due respect, sirs: Stop blocking, start tackling!
About Loree Sutton
is a psychiatrist and cofounder of Threshold GlobalWorks.
is a senator from New York and serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
is a third year student at Yale Law School and a member of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic.
is a retired lieutenant, helicopter pilot and U.S. Navy Member, and serves on the Board of Directors of Protect Our Defenders.
is the Service Women’s Action Network’s senior policy fellow and served as Commanding Officer of the Naval Telecommunications Station, Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory.
is the second ranked Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee and founder and cochair of the Women in the Military Caucus.
is executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.
is a former sex crimes prosecutor and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.