WASHINGTON, March 14, 2013 – Defense Department officials will do what it takes to end sexual assault in the military, the Pentagon’s top acting general counsel told Congress yesterday.
Robert Taylor told the Senate Armed Services Committee’s personnel subcommittee that DOD is building a structure to address sexual assault in the military, and that changes in the legal arena are in the works.
The General Counsel Office is working with the service judge advocates general “to make our judicial, investigative and support structures more efficient, effective and responsive to the rights and needs of victims, while preserving the rights of the accused,” he said.
Taylor was part of a full day of testimony before the committee. Earlier in the day, victims of sexual abuse testified about their experiences and spoke of a lack of interest exhibited by commanders and a lack of justice in the system.
“I watched the hearing this morning, and I want to take this opportunity to thank the witnesses for coming forward,” Taylor said. “I believe that their testimony will contribute to making our military better.”
An immediate concern to the subcommittee was the 3rd Air Force commander — Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin — using his discretion under the Uniform Code of Military Justice to dismiss charges against an Air Force lieutenant colonel convicted of sexual abuse. In such an instance, once a commander acts, no one can overturn it.
Victims and victims’ rights advocates are up in arms over the dismissal under Article 60 of the UCMJ. They say it perverts the justice system and undoes any good that changes in policies to combat sexual assault have made.
“A longstanding issue of concern is the significant role the commanders have in the administration of military justice generally and specifically in cases involving allegations of sexual assault,” Taylor said.
Over the years, Congress has preserved the central role of commanders in the administration of military justice, he said.
“However,” Taylor added, “the role of commanders has been narrowed numerous times to provide protections for the accused. So it would be a misreading of the long legislative history of the UCMJ to put the role of a commander beyond a careful re-examination.”
And that’s exactly what Taylor said his office will do. “The department has initiated a number of reviews to inform Congress and the secretary of defense regarding the advisability of additional changes to the administration of military justice,” he said.
Taylor said he will work with an independent panel to examine the systems used to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate sexual assault. The panel also will consider the role of convening authorities in the military justice process, including the authority to set aside a court-martial’s findings of guilt, he said.
Taylor says he enters this with an open mind, but said lawyers must proceed carefully to “ensure that changes to the administration of military justice are constructive and avoid any unintended negative repercussions.”
But proper care and caution cannot be an excuse for doing nothing, he added.
“Our men and women in uniform serve to protect us every day,” he said. “They put their lives on the line for us, for this great country of ours. We owe them a military in which sexual predators have no part and sexual assault has no place.”
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service