McCaskill: Commanders must be involved in military assault prosecutions

Updated
Missouri Democrat Senator Claire McCaskill questions a panel of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their legal counsels as they testify regarding sexual assaults...
Missouri Democrat Senator Claire McCaskill questions a panel of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their legal counsels as they testify regarding sexual assaults...
SAUL LOEB

Sen. Claire McCaskill fiercely defended her military sexual assault bill on Thursday, calling it a “great hybrid” after slamming her colleague’s proposal to completely remove commanders from the prosecution process.

“The problem we’ve had is not the commander saying no to cases going forward, the problem we have is victims getting the help, getting the assistance, and making sure the commander can’t come in and overturn a jury conviction,” the Missouri Democrat said on Thursday’s Morning Joe.

A proposal brought forward by New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand would have removed prosecutions of sexual assault cases from the military’s chain of command. The measure however was rejected in the Senate Armed Services Committee last week and replaced by one that would keep review decisions on incidents of sexual assault within the purview of senior officers.

In a sharp rebuke of Gillibrand’s proposal, McCaskill said service members would more likely face retaliation if cases of sexual assault were to be handled outside of their commanding officer’s jurisdiction.

“What we’ve done is create a crime of retaliation and I firmly believe–and this is an honest disagreement of what is stronger for victims–I believe there is less chance of a victim being retaliated against when the commander remains in the process in the beginning,” McCaskill said. ”If the commander is not in the process in the beginning, that woman goes back into the unit with the only one who signed off on her case going forward is a bunch of outside lawyers that nobody knows.”

The focus on addressing harassment in the armed forces comes after a string of high-profile sexual assault incidents shed light on what President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have called a “scourge” on the military. According to a Pentagon report released last month, an estimated 26,000 services members were assaulted last year. Of those estimated assaults, just over 3,000 were reported.

Watch the full interview below.

McCaskill: Commanders must be involved in military assault prosecutions

Updated