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Bill seeking change in military sex cases defeated in Senate vote

Although it might have seemed close when the votes were tallied, a military-related measure pushed hard for by United States Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY) failed to receive the requisite support needed to move to a full floor vote in that congressional body.

What Gillibrand and other senators along bipartisan lines -- actually 55 senators, a clear majority of that body -- want to see is law enacted that bars commanders at military bases from making ultimate decisions concerning the prosecution of sexual assault cases.

We mentioned the concerns of Gillibrand and like-minded legislators in a recent blog post (please see our entry dated February 19, 2014). Foremost, those pushing for new legislation argue that commanders should be stripped of their power to decide whether a given case should be prosecuted. Senior officers are too close to the matter, critics of their prerogatives state. They want to avoid scandal. They may be familiar -- even friends -- with suspects.

A debate this week on the Senate floor brought forth some criticism of those assertions. One opponent of Gillibrand's bill, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called it "way off base," adding that, "It will not get us to the promised land of having fewer sexual assaults."

Although Gillibrand's measure was defeated, another measure was passed the same day by a vote of 100-0. If that bill becomes law, it would mandate civilian review in any case where a commander and a military prosecutor are at odds over whether a sexual assault case should be litigated.

We noted in our earlier post cited above that, notwithstanding any legislation that might be passed in the future, it is imperative that it equally protect persons alleging criminal sexual behavior and suspects who have not been adjudged guilty.

Source: New York Times, "Senate rejects blocking military commanders from sexual assault cases," Helene Cooper, March 6, 2014

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