FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 8, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, Brian@protectourdefenders.com
*** STATEMENT ***
HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE ALMOST PASSES AMENDMENT TO REMOVE PROSECUTION OF SEXUAL ASSAULTS FROM CHAIN OF COMMAND, ADOPTS ADDITIONAL PROVISIONS PROPOSED BY PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS
Washington DC – Last night, the House Armed Services Committee came just 4 votes shy (28-34) of approving a bipartisan amendment to the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), introduced by Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), to remove prosecution of sexual assaults from commanders and place it in the hands of experienced military prosecutors. In an impassioned and heartfelt speech, Congressman William Enyart (D-Ill), a former military prosecutor, staff judge advocate, and commanding General, after much deliberation and soul searching had a change of heart and voted in favor of the amendment, saying “Many years ago, defense attorneys were taken out of the chain of command, because of the concern of the appearance of impropriety — the concern over the possibility of command influence. And after debating the issue in my own mind, I’ve come to the conclusion that we need to do the same thing with the prosecution.”
And, we want to recognize veteran and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), currently a Military Police Company Commander with the Hawaii Army National Guard for her moving remarks that helped to sway her colleagues to support common sense reform, “I’ve served as an enlisted private. I’ve served as a platoon leader and a company commander, and believe in the institution that we have that makes our military strong. But through this whole conversation about this epidemic of sexual assault in the military, the voice that is not often heard enough is the voices of those service members who have been through this. Those who, when you speak to them one-on-one, they tell you that the number one change that will make a difference—it won’t solve this complicated issue—but it will make a difference is taking this decision making authority outside of the chain of command.”
We also want to thank Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (D-MA), Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC), Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Congressman Chris Gibson (R-NY) for their support, and for standing with the American public on this issue by supporting an independent and impartial justice system.
In addition, the committee adopted three military sexual assault reform provisions proposed by Protect Our Defenders (POD). We worked closely in formulating these critical improvements with Congresswomen Speier (D-CA). Then, last month these policy recommendations were provided to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees. The important reforms adopted last night include:
(1) Limiting the “Good Military Character” defense to military specific crimes, so that an accused rapist can no longer be found “not guilty” simply for being a good soldier;
(2) Guaranteeing victims the right to appeal adverse rulings regarding the psychotherapist-patient privilege (Military Rule of Evidence (MRE) 513), and rape shield rule (MRE 412), which shields information about a victims’ past sexual history; and
(3) And eliminating an exception to MRE 513, which military judges have routinely used as a loophole to justify turning over victims’ confidential therapy records to their alleged rapist.
Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish today released the following statement.
“Last night, the movement to achieve blind justice for our men and women in uniform met an important milestone with the close vote by the House Armed Services Committee on removing the decision to prosecute from the chain of command. This bi-partisan vote highlights the growing recognition that the military justice system is fundamentally broken, and reflects the fact that a rapidly growing majority of the American people believe our troops deserve an impartial and transparent system of justice and support providing professional prosecutors the authority to decide whether to prosecute.
“We applaud Congresswomen Jackie Speier and Tulsi Gabbard for their leadership. And, we thank Congressman Enyart, for his change of heart and impassioned speech regarding why we must take sexual assault cases out of the chain of command, as well as all the members of the Committee who supported the amendment.
“By offering the amendment to take prosecutions out of the chain of command, Congresswoman Speier has once again demonstrated her leadership and dogged persistence in insuring that victims’ voices are heard.
“The additional amendments sponsored by the representative from California and approved by the Committee, once passed, will make the military justice system a less hostile experience for victims. These reforms will encourage more brave men and women in uniform to come forward and cooperate in pursing justice against their attackers.
The reforms that did pass the committee are a supplement—not a substitute—for true, fundamental, and transformational reform. We will continue to support those brave members in the House who have spoken out in support of these measures, and will continue to fight to see them passed in both houses of Congress and into law. They are essential to creating a system of blind justice, which our brave men and women in uniform deserve.
“Your boss or boss’ friends should not decide whether a sexual assault allegation is prosecuted.”
Protect Our Defenders Policy Priorities
[VIDEO] Congressman Enyart Changes His Vote on Command Influence
[VIDEO] C-SPAN: National Defense Authorization Act Markup (Part 5)
San Jose Mercury News: Rape in military has a better solution
Washington Post: Fresh reports of sexual misconduct undercut Pentagon’s argument for internal fix
Stars and Stripes: Probe of Army general calls insular military culture into question
McClatchy: Leadership ‘accountable’ on military sexual assault, Hagel says
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 www.protectourdefenders.com or on Facebook at http://facebook.com/ProtectOurDefenders or follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ProtectRDfnders.
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.