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Hawaii delegation supports bill on military sexual assault

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All four members of Hawaii’s Congressional delegation have signed onto a bill that would for the first time remove from the military chain of command decision-making over whether serious crimes are prosecuted.

The proposal follows outrage over high numbers of sexual assaults in the military, as well as high-profile cases including an Air Force lieutenant colonel’s sexual assault conviction that was overturned by a commander, and an Army commander allowing a Wheeler Army Airfield helicopter pilot to resign when he was twice accused of rape.

The Military Justice Improvement Act would remove the prosecution of all crimes punishable by one year or more in confinement from the chain of command, except crimes that are uniquely military in nature, such as disobeying orders or going absent without leave.

The law would instead hand over the decision-making to experienced military prosecutors, according to a release from U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York.

Also codified would be Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s proposal that the convening authority in military cases could not set aside a guilty finding or change a guilty finding to a lesser offense.

“It is the federal government’s responsibility to end this behavior and protect service members. Sen. Gillibrand’s legislation puts military legal professionals in charge of prosecuting serious crimes like sexual assaults, leaving commanders to prosecute military missions,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz.

The legislation “ensures that military sexual assault victims who come forward are guaranteed a safe, fair, and transparent process, free from fear of retaliation,” said U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “We in Congress and leaders in the Defense Department need to keep shining a spotlight on this very disturbing problem. We cannot and will not let this issue lie.”

Hawaii’s other Congressional members, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, also support the measure.

Gillibrand’s office said that according to Pentagon estimates, more than 26,000 incidents of sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact occurred in 2012; overall reports increased 37 percent; and sexual assault crimes increased 6 percent to 3,374 reports. But there were only 238 convictions, Gillibrand said.

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