The Pentagon is scrambling to propose a handful of new regulations to combat sexual assault in the military. The provisions they are making, however, are the same as those proposed by Congress.
In May, a group of Senators attempted to eliminate commanding officers’ authority in the military judicial process. This would upend the authority of chain of command in military court proceedings by undermining convening authority and hamper timely sentences by eliminating Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
The Pentagon should take precaution, however, and rationally evaluate how to better cope with sexual assault while not infringing upon long-standing UCMJ authorities. Senator James Inhofe (R–OK) recently wrote a letter to his congressional colleagues explaining how certain statistics have been misrepresented in the sexual assault debate. Inhofe called rational discussion of the issue rather than sensationalism.
Heritage’s Steven Bucci, a three-decade Army veteran who has been a commanding officer during similar cases, says that the effort to remove the chain of command from sexual assault cases in the military “addresses the wrong problem.” He continues to explain that the problem is not with how the commanders operate but with how the prosecutors prosecute. This indicates a flaw in how the military court system operates, not a defect in the law.
According to Bucci and Charles Stimson, manager of the National Security Law Program and senior legal fellow at Heritage, one way of addressing this issue should start with a fundamental restructure of the Judge Advocate General corps that creates a career track for criminal litigators to provide experienced prosecutors who specialize in specific crimes, such as sexual assault.
The recent attempts on Capitol Hill to change the UCMJ address the wrong issues in this debate—while pushing for quick answers to a delicate issue—could lead to unintended consequences. Congress should be careful in attempting to throw out established military law based on misguided arguments and knee-jerk reactions.