Sen. Deb Fischer defends the Armed Services Committee approach to prosecuting sexual assault in the military against an alternative being floated in the Senate.
Fischer, a Republican who sits on the committee, rejects the argument that sexual assault and other cases should be removed from the military chain of command. Fischer favors the approach of the committee, which would make historic changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice while maintain the overall military structure.
“I mentioned a ‘good soldier’ defense and our amendment would eliminate that. It shouldn’t matter if you’re a decorated soldier. That should have no bearing on a case if you’re being accused of sexual assault,” Fischer tells Nebraska reporters during a conference call.
The Armed Services Committee amendment would strip military commanders of the authority to overturn a jury conviction in a sexual assault case, make it a crime to retaliate against those who report sexual assaults, and require a dismissal or dishonorable discharge of anyone convicted of sexual assault as well as provide civilian oversight of the process.
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, has proposed removing sexual assault cases as well as other serious charges from the military chain of command. Gillibrand would remove military commanders from any involvement in the cases. Instead, specialized military prosecutors would handle such cases.
Fischer says the chain of command has been established for a reason.
“I believe that in order to keep a commander accountable, basically, to keep that commander accountable and make him care for all of his troops, we cannot remove this from the chain of command,” Fischer says.
Fischer adds that is exactly what the Gillibrand amendment would do.
“If you take this out of the chain of command, a commander must step back and is not able to participate at all and I think that is a huge, huge mistake,” Fischer says.
According to figures released by the Pentagon, up to 26,000 service members were the victims of unwanted sexual contact last year while just over 3,000 incidents of sexual assault were officially reported.
Changes in how the military handles sexual assault cases are part of the National Defense Authorization Act the Senate is set to debate soon.