The Norman Transcript

Columns

November 24, 2013

The system doesn’t work

NORMAN — It would be easy enough to fixate on the strange-bedfellow politics — Harry Reid and Ted Cruz on the same side — and lose track of the substantive argument.

In short, it’s this: If the U.S. military’s system for rooting out sexual assault in the ranks and prosecuting the accused were working, we wouldn’t need to find a better way.

It’s not, and we do. One bit of evidence is from a report released in the spring revealing that incidents of sexual assault in the military continue to increase at alarming rates, reaching an estimated 26,000 last year. Of that number, only about 3,000 led to a formal complaint.

Before you ask, the question isn’t whether the U.S. has the world’s best-trained and best-equipped military, with a proud tradition of dedicated service and remarkable achievement. This is not in doubt.

The questions are whether that military, on its own, has done enough to stem the rising sexual assault numbers and whether prosecutors, rather than commanders, should decide which cases to pursue. Given the evidence, made worse by some high-profile cases involving officers who should know better, the logical answer comes from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

Her measure, an amendment to a defense bill, would shift the power from rank-and-file commanders to prosecutors, military lawyers trained to evaluate and handle sexual assault cases. This independent military justice system is what Reid, the Senate majority leader, announced he was supporting this week. Months earlier, two prominent conservative Republicans, Cruz and Kentucky’s Rand Paul, lent their support to Gillibrand, one of the Senate’s more liberal Democrats.

Gillibrand’s effort, in fact, has split both party caucuses. She claims 50 on-the-record supporters, with others privately backing her, but concedes she’s still short of the 60 she would need to avert a filibuster.

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