It began a year ago, in January 2013, when Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) introduced the “Protect Our Military Trainees Act” that, according to her press release, was “in response to the widespread sexual abuse by Air Force training instructors at a San Antonio Base,” and would “protect trainees from assault and sexual advances by instructors.”
Never mind that sexual harassment in the military is prohibited by innumerable regulations, or that coerced sexual activity “through the use or abuse of military position, rank, or authority” has met the statutory definition of a sexual assault since October 2007, or even that this definition was expanded in 2012 to include “a[ny] communication or action that is of sufficient consequence to cause a reasonable fear . . . [of] being subjected to the wrongful action contemplated by the communication or action.” Congress was getting curious about sexual assault in the military, and it didn’t like what it saw.
Actually, it really began a year before the Congresswoman’s proposal, when we encountered the “uninformed, dishonest, or both” propaganda film “The Invisible War,” and the politicization of the military’s response to sexual assaults became #1 military justice story of 2012. And these days, “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”
So there was Congress, geared up to address the military sexual assault crisis, when the Wilkerson case (our #5 story of this year) threw gasoline onto the bonfire. An explosion of legislative proposals soon followed, with Representative Speier and Senator McCaskill each introducing bills to limit a commander’s post-trial powers, and the Senate Armed Services Committee conducting hearings on March 13 and June 4.
The House Armed Services Committee was also concerned, with leaders writing a letter in March to the recently-appointed Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, on the topic. A veteran of Vietnam and a two-term Republican U.S. Senator from Nebraska, Secretary Hagel replied in April with his own proposal to limit the Article 60 authority of commanders, including “eliminating the discretion for a convening authority to change the findings of a court-martial, except for certain minor offenses that would not ordinarily warrant trial by court-martial.”
Senator Hagel’s April proposal was prophetic, but before the prophecy would be fulfilled, the Naval Academy checked in. In June we first noted a sexual assault allegation involving three male members of the Academy’s football team, an intoxicated female midshipman, and an off-campus house party in 2012. The allegation led to an Article 32 investigation that more closely resembled a three-ring-circus than a quasi-judicial proceeding. Press reports say that the midshipman was grilled for over 30 hours by defense counsel, with absurd questions such as “how wide she opened her mouth during oral sex and whether she had apologized to another midshipman with whom she had intercourse ‘for being a ho.’” Soon after, both the House and the Senate put Article 32 in their sights with proposals to limit the scope of the investigation and to change it from a full-blown investigation to a mere preliminary hearing.
So, about that prophecy. On December 26, 2013, it came true.