FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington Post Report Says Congress on Verge of Gutting Sexual Assault Reforms
After over 30 years since the Tailhook scandal, today, former Navy Lt. Paula Coughlin, who in 1992 became the first public face of the sexual assault crisis in the military, is leading the charge to hold those attempting to water down reform accountable and prevent them from succeeding
Washington, DC – After a decades long struggle, survivors and their supporters have built a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, a majority in the House and the public support of the President for removing commanders from being the Convening Authority and replacing them with independent military prosecutors. According to a new Washington Post report, Congress is about to cut a deal on the backs of service members who have been sexually assaulted and leave commanders with no legal training in charge of the military justice system, eviscerating the independence of military prosecutors – damaging military recruiting, retention and readiness. The backroom deal orchestrated by the Pentagon would gut the Military Justice Improvement Increasing Prevention Act (MJIIPA) from the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). As the Congressional Research Service made abundantly clear, only MJIIPA is independent of the chain of command.
The MJIIPA sponsored by Sen. Gillibrand and Sen. Ernst would empower senior military attorneys rather than commanders to decide whether allegations of sexual assault, rape, child abuse and other serious offenses will be prosecuted. The findings of the President’s Independent Review Commission (IRC) made it painfully clear that service members lack trust in commanders’ competence to make prosecutorial decisions and to hold offenders accountable. Moreover, the IRC recommended giving independent military attorneys prosecutorial authority, including traditional powers such as entering into plea agreements that are now vested in commanders. A recent Rand report estimates the ongoing crisis drastically impacts military readiness – sexual assaults and harassment in a single year were associated with 10,000 service members leaving the military within 28 months.
Today, Paula Coughlin, Retired Lieutenant, U.S. Navy, Member, Board of Directors, Protect Our Defenders, released the following statement:
“According to the Washington Post a few members of Congress are about to cut a deal leaving commanders in charge of the military justice system. The efforts to gut reform are unacceptable to the survivor community and must be rejected. If this effort succeeds it will be a slap in the face to those who have put it all on the line this past decade. Especially those who have bravely come forward to share their stories of the abuses they faced at the hands of the chain of command. If this version passes it will codify a broken system.
“I’m asking all survivors and those who support them to call on Senators Reed and Inhofe, HASC Chair, Adam Smith and all members of Congress to support MJIIPA.”
Col. Don Christensen (ret.), the former Chief Prosecutor of the United States Air Force and President of Protect Our Defenders, released the following statement:
“The efforts to gut reform are unacceptable to the survivor community and must be rejected. Protect Our Defenders strenuously opposes the effort to allow commanders to retain critical traditional prosecutorial functions. The IRC made it crystal clear that commanders do not have the qualifications to make such decisions. We completely agree with the IRC that independence is critical for military prosecutors. Requiring prosecutors to seek approval of commanders for decisions best left to a lawyer destroys that independence.
“Rather than giving military prosecutors full authority over a case, the Pentagon is working behind closed doors to keep a commander’s authority over a case including the power to grant or deny witness immunity requests, order depositions, approve the hiring of expert witnesses and consultants and most importantly the authority to withdraw any and all charges the prosecutor has brought against an accused. If allowed to stand, prosecutors will be anything but independent. Instead, they will be required to convince a commander to approve critical litigation decisions that can make the difference between winning and losing a case. Commanders also would retain the ability to allow an accused to separate from the service rather than face a court-martial and thereby escape justice.
“It would be a critical mistake to allow the Pentagon and a small number of their supporters on the Hill to gut the independence of the military prosecutor. Contrary to the claims of some, commanders who thwart the will of the military prosecutor by denying the request to approve an expert witness or unilaterally withdraw charges and stopping a prosecution cannot be punished or held accountable. When the law gives a commander discretion to make prosecutorial decisions such as stopping a prosecution by withdrawing charges, the commander cannot be punished for exercising that discretion. To do so would be considered unlawful command influence.”
About Protect Our Defenders: Protect Our Defenders is the pre-eminent national human rights organization dedicated to ending sexual violence, victim retaliation, misogyny, sexual prejudice, and racism in the military and combating a culture that has allowed it to persist. 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.