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Obama orders military to review sexual assault

By Donna Cassata & Nedra Pickler

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 06:27 a.m. HST, Dec 20, 2013

WASHINGTON » President Barack Obama today gave the military one year to make progress on an epidemic of sexual assault or face potential tougher reforms, hours after Congress sent a sweeping defense bill for his signature that cracks down on the crime in its ranks.

Obama said the military has "an urgent obligation" to support victims and punish perpetrators as he directed military leaders to review their efforts to prevent and respond to the crime, including improvements to the military justice system. He said he wants Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to report back to him by Dec. 1, 2014.

"If I do not see the kind of progress I expect, then we will consider additional reforms that may be required to eliminate this crime from our military ranks and protect our brave service members who stand guard for us every day at home and around the world," Obama said in a statement provided to The Associated Press.

Obama didn't specify what other reforms he would consider in the statement, his first remarks in response to the sexual assault legislation. The Senate is still debating a contentious proposal from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that would take away authority for prosecuting accused attackers from military commanders. The White House says Obama hasn't taken a position on the bill and remains open to all ideas for reform but that he supports the thrust of the reforms passed by the Senate in late-night session Thursday and wants to give them time to work.

The Senate voted 84-15 for the $632.8 billion bill that covers combat pay, new ships, aircraft and military bases. Drawing the greatest attention were the provisions cracking down on perpetrators of sexual assault and rape.

The Pentagon estimates that 26,000 members of the military may have been sexually assaulted last year, though thousands were afraid to come forward for fear of inaction or retribution. The scandal united Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate in a concerted effort to change the Uniform Code of Military Justice, with Senate women leading the fight.

"Today represents a huge win for victims of sexual assault, and for justice in America's armed forces, but this is no finish line," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., one of seven women on the Armed Services Committee who pushed for the changes. "In the months and years ahead, vigilance will be required to ensure that these historic reforms are implemented forcefully and effectively."

The legislation would strip military commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions, require a civilian review if a commander declines to prosecute a case and require that any individual convicted of sexual assault face a dishonorable discharge or dismissal. The bill also would provide victims with legal counsel, eliminate the statute of limitations for courts-martial in rape and sexual assault cases, and criminalize retaliation against victims who report a sexual assault. The legislation also would change the military's Article 32 proceedings to limit intrusive questioning of victims, making it more similar to a grand jury.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said the legislation "will help encourage victims to come forward to seek justice, and it will help ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their crimes."

The sexual assault provisions are part of a larger measure that would also provide $552.1 billion for the regular military budget and $80.7 billion for the war in Afghanistan and other overseas operations, a reflection of deficit-driven efforts to trim spending and the drawdown in a conflict lasting more than a decade.

The bill would give Obama additional flexibility to move detainees out of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to foreign countries, but it stops well short of the administration's goal of closing the detention facility and bans detainee transfers to the United States.

The legislation also would cover combat pay and other benefits, authorize funds for the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria and provide money to study the feasibility of establishing a missile defense site on the East Coast.

The sexual assault measures came after a contentious hearing earlier this year, when senators dressed down senior military leaders and insisted that sexual assault in the military had cost the services the trust and respect of the American people as well as the nation's men and women in uniform.

Dempsey and the beribboned four-star chiefs of the service branches conceded in an extraordinary hearing in June that they had faltered in dealing with sexual assault. One said assaults were "like a cancer" in the military.

Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, especially Gillibrand and McCaskill, grilled the chiefs about whether the military's mostly male leadership understands differences between relatively minor sexual offenses and serious crimes that deserve swift and decisive justice.

"Not every single commander necessarily wants women in the force. Not every single commander believes what a sexual assault is. Not every single commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and a rape because they merge all of these crimes together," Gillibrand said.

In his statement today, Obama called sexual assault in the military a "corrosive problem, which is a violation of the values our armed forces stand for, destroys trust among our troops, and undermines our readiness."

"As commander in chief, I've made it clear that these crimes have no place in the greatest military on earth," Obama said. "Since then, our armed forces have moved ahead with a broad range of initiatives, including reforms to the military justice system, improving and expanding prevention programs, and enhancing support for victims. Yet, so long as our women and men in uniform face the insider threat of sexual assault, we have an urgent obligation to do more to support victims and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes, as appropriate under the military justice system."

Presidential aides said the White House will be working with the Pentagon to develop a set of benchmarks so that the military's review will be rigorous enough to bring about change. They said the review will include all the efforts underway to address the problem, including training and prevention programs and the way the justice system deters the problem and supports victims.

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pcman wrote:
More than half of sexual assaults are by men as the unintended consequences of Obama's repeal of the "No Ask, No Tell" policy. Bigger gay men are bullying smaller men for sex because they can do so now without incrimination. Of course, sexual abuse by gays is often followed by physical threats, beatings, homicide, embarrassment and suicide. Statistically, they all tend to rise and fall together. Homicides are often reported as suicides, for lack of evidence or command convenience.
on December 20,2013 | 07:04AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
Your logic fails here. The military has always had gays on their roster. Further, the offenders were always mostly men. And the problems were always there before the repeal of the policy. Tell us what data that you have to support your controversial claim? To claim that gay men are the cause of what is behind this legislation is simply preposterous. Many of the offenders are not gay and many of the victims are not males. To link the sexual assaults to the repeal of the policy, whether it be a political attack on a political party or on a sexual orientation is not only outrageous but is exactly why we as a country need to step up to ensure that those people of that orientation's rights are protected. It's people like you who use politics or religion to promote their personal hate-mongering agenda.
on December 20,2013 | 08:28AM
Charliegrunt wrote:
I have not personally read the document, but read a commentary that refers to a report on Sexual Assaults in the Military, May 2013, that verifies the crux of what pcman wrote in more detail. The MAIN issue, however, is the difficulty in getting the whole truth from this administration. It's filled with snake oil sales people.
on December 20,2013 | 08:47AM
EightOEight wrote:
Commentary by whom? Surely the commentator cited the report. Who issued the report? Back up your claim that the Obama administration is not providing "the whole truth" on this subject, after all it's the MAIN issue. Otherwise you and Pcman are just snake oil bloggers.
on December 20,2013 | 09:37AM
pcman wrote:
IRT nodaddy on past. The stats are based complaints, not on number of offenders. Good try, but no cigar. Under NANT, male homosexuals could not openly reveal their homosexuality without self -incrimination. Why was there a significant increase of male sexual abuse complaints after the repeal of NANT? Coincidence? I don't think so.
on December 20,2013 | 03:11PM
Ronin006 wrote:
President Barack Obama has drawn another red line in the sand today by giving the military one year to make progress on an epidemic of sexual assault or face potential tougher reforms. That is enough to scare the pants off military brass just like he scared the pants off Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with the red line he drew in the sand regarding Syria’s use of chemical weapons. But wait. Obama backed down from his threat of military action against Syria. He has no credibility, so why should our military brass worry “potential tougher reforms?”
on December 20,2013 | 07:05AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Another red line? He did not follow through with the red line he drew for the Syrian president, so why would anyone believe he will follow through with his current red line?
on December 20,2013 | 07:11AM
Solara wrote:
He'll likely leave this for the next administration. They have a year to pretend to do something and then the administration will require time to debate on what's to be done, etc. etc. etc. Why not support Gillibrand's bill to take the investigation and prosecution process out of the perpetrators hands? It's very often the case that officers or other higher ups are the ones guilty of the assaults on both sexes.
on December 20,2013 | 08:12AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
The first thing we need to do is remove the military from involvement with bringing the perpetrators to justice. The states within which the crimes are committed should handle the cases. The state's law enforcement should be notified as soon as the military is aware of a crime on their premises. We have seen how the military handles these cases.
on December 20,2013 | 08:14AM
Bully wrote:
Just pathetic that the President has to order the miltary to not sweep the investigation under the rug.
on December 20,2013 | 08:27AM
Ronin006 wrote:
The only thing pathetic about this matter is the president and female members of congress who are who are blowing the problem out of all proportion to reality. The cry and outrage arose from the alleged mishandling of one or two high profile cases out of more than 250 so-called sexual assault cases in the military services during the past year, an extremely small number by any standard. It is not realistic for every sexual assault allegation to result in a guilty verdict, but that apparently is what some politicians expect and are demanding. I dare say that the percentage of sexual assault cases that are overturned in civilian courts is no better than the percentage in the military judicial system. Members of congress need to stop grand standing and start focusing on real problems facing the nation.
on December 20,2013 | 02:46PM
Skyler wrote:
Those who are assaulted and humiliated don't thing the problem is 'blown out of proportion.' Deniers do.
on December 20,2013 | 10:13PM
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