“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.