Protect Our Defenders News Blog


PRESS RELEASE: Protect Our Defenders Calls for Congress to Place Hold on Navy Undersecretary Nominee


October 11, 2013 Contact: Brian Purchia, (202) 253-(202) 

*** PRESS RELEASE ***    


At a confirmation hearing, Dr. Jo Ann Rooney, tapped by President Obama for Navy Undersecretary, submits written testimony asserting that “good order and discipline” supersedes value of justice “decisions based on the evidence”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, United States Navy Undersecretary nominee, Dr. Jo Ann Rooney in written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), stated that if proposed changes to remove prosecution decisions for sexual assault from the often biased chain of command were made, the result would be “decisions based on evidence rather than the interest in preserving good order and discipline.” Today, Protect Our Defenders called on Congress to place a hold on her nomination for these outrageous comments that fuel a completely broken system of military justice. 

Pentagon officials have furiously objected to the creation of an independent and impartial justice system, saying it will negatively impact “good order and discipline,” even though there is no evidence of this from our many allies with systems similar to that proposed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). In fact, the evidence speaks to the opposite – the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the U.S. military and our broken military justice system undermines “good order and discipline” by eroding trust within the unit. Last month, the director-general of the Australian Defence Force Legal Service, Paul Cronan, who was asked to testify at a hearing on the epidemic said they had faced the same set of arguments from military leaders.

“It’s a little bit like when we opened up [to] gays in military in the late ’80s,” Cronan said. “There was a lot of concern at that time that there’d be issues. But not surprisingly, there haven’t been any.”

Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish released the following statement:

“Dr. Jo Ann Rooney’s comment represents a moment of candor from a top military leader and reflects the prevalent attitude of the U.S. military’s top brass. It is astounding to hear our military leaders proclaim that service members are not deserving of a system of justice based on the evidence in their case.

Our elected leaders should place a hold on her nomination – these comments do not reflect the attitude of a person who deserves to be in a position of leadership. The military leadership’s persistent lack of regard for victims and absence of a genuine effort to reform the system is reprehensible. While our military leaders testify that they are finally getting serious about ‘zero tolerance,’ their actions and testimony suggest the opposite.

Military readiness is adversely affected by the ongoing epidemic of sexual assaults in our armed forces. Arbitrary justice by a commander has not enhanced our military’s readiness – it has undermined it. Morale suffers and trust, the essential ingredient to an effective, functioning military, is destroyed. If victims come forward their reputations and careers are damaged. Comments like these from Dr. Rooney sends exactly the wrong message to victims thinking of coming forward. It is difficult to imagine how a climate of silence and fear, where victims cannot rely on a fair and impartial justice system, promotes good order and discipline.

In 2012 alone, an estimated 26,000 men and women in the military experienced unwanted sexual contact. Of those cases, over 90 percent were never reported, with over 50 percent of victims stating that fear of retaliation kept them from coming forward. For those brave service members who did come forward to file a report, 62 percent say they experienced retaliation as a result of reporting their attack.

It is unthinkable that after all of the public debate and outrage over the broken military justice system, a nominee for one of the top positions in the Navy would advocate for a system of justice inferior to the one that every other American enjoys. The brave men and women who have signed up to serve our country deserve an independent, impartial, and transparent system of justice-anything less is an insult to those who have dedicated their lives to protect our freedom.”

In response to Dr. Rooney’s comments, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who sits on the SASCargued that, “members of the military still have civil rights,” and those making these decisions “should have an objective review based only on the evidence.”

Earlier this year, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) to move the decision to prosecute and adjudicate sexual assault cases from an often-biased chain of command — a step toward creating an independent and impartial military justice system. Former generals, and an official Pentagon advisory grouphave come out in support of this common sense reform, It also has widespread bipartisan backing, with 46 senators publicly supporting the bill, including Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Senator Ted Cruz (D-TX), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).

On the House side, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) has introduced the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (STOP Act). This bill removes authority for handling these cases from the chain of command. The legislation currently has 148 co-sponsors. Thus far the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee has failed to allow the bill to come before the committee for a vote.

Breaking Defense: McCain Hammers Navy Nominee On LCS, Audits

Senator Gillibrand: Time to remove military sexual assault cases from the chain of command

Politico: Some brass back Kirsten Gillibrand’s sexual-assault bill

Military Times: Pentagon advisory panel: Strip commanders’ ability to prosecute sexual assaults

Washington Business Journal: Jo Ann Rooney may hold No. 2 position in Navy Department

About Protect Our Defenders: Protect Our Defenders is a human rights organization.  We seek to honor, support and give voice to the brave women and men in uniform who have been sexually assaulted while serving their country, and re-victimized by the military adjudication system – a system that often blames the victim and fails to prosecute the perpetrator. Learn more about Protect Our Defenders at or on Facebook at or follow us on Twitter at

Protect Our Defenders partners with Attorney Susan Burke, Burke PLLC to advance lawsuits filed against the DoD and service academies for repeatedly ignoring rape, sexual assault and harassment, failing to prosecute perpetrators and retaliating against the victim.