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Duckworth: Take sex assault out of chain of command

Former Iraq War veteran and double amputee Democrat Rep.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Former Iraq War veteran and double amputee Democrat Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois told msnbc's Andrea Mitchell Thursday that the time has come to consider taking sexual assault cases out of military commanders' purview.

"Unfortunately, there are enough failed commanders out there and people making terrible decisions that I just think that, if we're going to try to defend our men and women who are victims of sexual harassment and assault in the military, that we do have to consider taking it out of chain of command," Duckworth said. Under current military law, commanders have the power to overturn verdicts on sexual assault cases.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and others have introduced legislation that would put sexual assault cases in the hands of military prosecutors rather than unit commanders.

Top military officials, including all of the joint chiefs of staff and the commandant of the coast guard, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week. Nearly all opposed transferring authority to military prosecutors.

"I think the debate has already been elevated, and I think that's important for victims to know, so they can feel they can come forward and get justice in their cases," Gillibrand said to Mitchell about the hearings.

Duckworth, a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot, called sexual assault "a cancer within the unit."

"You might as well be shooting your unit members," she told Mitchell.

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