Keep looking for the votes
The Senate last week kept the military safe for sexual assailants.
By a 55-45 procedural vote, senators blocked a final vote on New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand's bill to place prosecutorial decisions in the hands of professional prosecutors rather than unit commanders. Sen. Bob Casey voted to bring the bill to a vote; Sen. Pat Toomey was in the majority. Under the rule, 60 votes were needed to proceed.
Sexual assault is a huge problem in the military. According to Pentagon, the number of reported sexual assaults jumped by an unprecedented 46 percent last year, increasing from 2,434 in 2012 to 3,553 in the fiscal year that endedSept. 30. No one knows if that is due primarily to increased crime or increased reporting, or a combination of both. But the startling number still only represents sexual assaults that are reported. By leaving prosecution decisions in the hands of commanders, the Senate guaranteed that large numbers of cases never will be reported.
Military commanders are tasked with military readiness rather than pursuing justice. That creates an inherent conflict in the decision-making process - all the more so in cases where a commander may have a close professional, positive relationship with an accused assailant or a negative relationship with an accuser, or both.
Thursday, as senators prepared to vote, Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair pleaded guilty to several charges brought against him by female officers, and the Army launched an investigation of sexual abuse allegations against an officer who trains military prosecutors to handle sexual and physical abuse cases.
There clearly is a culture problem that won't be resolved by leaving the matter in the hands of unit commanders. It also won't be resolved through a watered-down bill that the Senate is scheduled to consider today.
Ms. Gillibrand should keep looking for the additional five votes she needs to let prosecutors make prosecutorial decisions.