The defense policy bill scaled back but did not eliminate the role senior commanders play in sexual assault cases. Officers who have the power to convene courts-martial were stripped of their authority to overturn guilty verdicts reached by juries, and should they decline to prosecute a case, a review of the decision must be conducted by the service's civilian secretary.
The argument for keeping commanders involved in sexual assault cases received a boost from a panel of experts, which said last month that there is no evidence that removing commanders from the process will reduce sex crimes or increase the reporting of them.
"I don't know how we can trust our commanders to train our sons and daughters to fight and win our nation's war and yet not trust them to provide and establish a command climate that provides each and every soldier a safe working environment," said retired Gen. Ann Dunwoody, the Army's first female four-star.
Gillibrand and her supporters argue that the cultural shift needed to lower the incidence of sexual assault in the military won't happen if commanders retain their current role in the legal system.
"Skippers have had this authority since the days of John Paul Jones and sexual assaults still occur," said Lory Manning, a retired Navy captain and senior fellow at the Women in the Military Project. "And this is where we are."
Nearly 600 documents, obtained by the AP from the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service through the Freedom of Information Act., of sexual assault cases involving U.S. military personnel at bases in Japan from 2005 to early 2013, are available at: http://hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/--documents/military-sexual-assaults