BRADENTON – Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) gained two important allies recently in her fight to have the prosecution of sex crimes removed from the military chain of command. Tea Party Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) gave their support to Gillibrand's proposal to create a new prosecution system for major military crimes. The issue is expected to come to the Senate floor as early as next week for debate.
Gillibrand hopes that Senator Paul's support will provide critical momentum as she inches toward a simple 51 vote majority. Fellow Republican Senators Susan Collins, Mike Johanns, Lisa Murkowski and Chuck Grassley have supported the proposal since its early stages and Senators Ted Cruz and David Vitter both voted for it during the committee markup last month.
Gillibrand was appointed to the Senate by former New York Governor David Patterson after Hillary Clinton left the seat to run for president. She was credited with carrying the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell to the finish line, following the death of Senator Ted Kennedy.
A former prosecutor, the Senator handled many sexual assault cases before coming to Washington. Gillibrand has been on a long-time crusade to help remedy the epidemic level of rape in the United States military, where the chain of command decides whether complaints move forward and the ratio of complaints to charges is considerably lower than the civilian justice system.
Senator Gillibrand sees a conflict of interest in having the chain of command decide such fates and has sought to protect service members who often accuse someone in their unit of a sex crime, only to have to deploy with them when charges are never sought.
“Our carefully crafted common sense proposal written in direct response to the experiences of those who have gone through a system rife with bias and conflict of interest is not a Democratic or Republican idea – it is just the right idea,” said Gillibrand at a press conference.
Democratic leaders in the Senate have not yet scheduled a defense authorization bill, or any amendments to it, including Gillibrand’s proposal. However, aides have noted that it will likely get to the floor during the final two weeks before the August recess.
Military leaders, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have opposed Gillibrand’s proposal. They argue that it would subvert the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which they see as a vital core component of military command. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) and ranking member Jim Inhofe (R-OK) have also opposed Gillibrand's proposal.