Last week, our own United States Senate brought the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) to a vote, sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gilibrand (D-NY). I would be proud to say that the bill was passed. I wanted it to pass. But it did not; and why not? The reason Americans heard over and over from our senators who voted against this bill was that trying military personnel in civilian courts would undermine the structure and authority of the military. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) explained his worries as “I wanted to make sure the captain of a ship is really the captain of the whole ship.” But what about the captain who is sexually assaulting crew members or protecting his mates who are? It’s as though the thought had not entered the senator’s mind.
Thankfully, the need for reform on military conduct is well understood by members of both parties - just not enough members for this bill. When the MJIA came to a vote, it had 10 republicans supporting and 10 democrats opposing it. But I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to watch a vote on this issue and know that partisan politics was at least not the problem. I mean, when else are we going to see Ted Cruz and Rand Paul voting in favor of a bill with Cory Booker and Barbara Boxer?! That was amazing! Senator Susan Collin, a Republican senator from Maine, was quoted, “While we debate various proposals, we are united by the need for serious reforms that will strengthen the military’s response to sexual assaults.” Thank God.
I personally favored the MJIA over other proposals for several reasons, chief among them because it called for a more widespread overhaul of military justice. The current system of keeping it within the chain of command has so clearly been ineffective. When a system is this corrupt, the entire culture needs to change. The argument is that prosecutorial power cannot be taken away from the commanding officers because that would compromise good order and discipline…
What good order and discipline? Less than 8% of reported cases in 2011 went to trial! And ⅓ of convicted sex offenders remain in the military! What order?! What discipline?!
Several months back, I wrote here on PARC’s page about sexual assault in the military. It’s interesting because to me, this issue is not deeply personal – that is, I’m not a service member or a spouse/child/parent/sibling of a service member. My connections to the military are that I have extended family who have or are serving and am a proud American citizen who loves her country and respects the shit out of discipline and honor. And I am physically sickened when I learn that people who have volunteered to serve our country are sexually harassed, assaulted and raped while trying to uphold American values. Raping soldiers, calling them “sluts" and “whore” and “cunts” and ruining their lives is NOT discipline and honor. It is not worth risking their lives and dying for. The military system is what has failed them, and that is why the entire culture has to change.