A conservative military watchdog says she opposes the proposal to end commanders' authority to oversee military sexual assault cases, and she hopes the Department of Defense will continue to agree with her on that.
A Pentagon panel is recommending that decisions to prosecute service members for sexual assault be made by independent authorities instead of by commanders, which would be a major reversal of military practice and a change long sought by some Democrat Congress members.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III's recommendation for an independent review commission goes against decades of vehement Pentagon arguments to keep cases within the chain of command, though he will reportedly seek input from military service leaders before making a final decision.
"This is another iteration of the crusade of Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D) of New York," responds Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness (CMR). "She's been riding this hobby horse for a long time. It makes no sense. The Department of Defense has strongly opposed it in previous years, [and] I hope they'll continue to do that even though the administration has changed."
Donnelly says commanders have to be responsible for everything that happens within their units.
"If you shift that responsibility outside of the command, two bad things will happen," she warns. "Number one, the commander is no longer responsible for what happens, and secondly, you're less likely to get the kind of fair hearing that many people who accuse others of sexual assault … would want to have. These cases are inherently difficult to prove; it's a she said/ he said kind of situation."
Shifting responsibility of the cases to civilian authority would only make it less likely to get to the truth, the CMR president concludes.