WASHINGTON — Sen. Jim Inhofe stepped up his fight Friday against a proposal to remove U.S. military commanders from the process of determining how sexual assault cases are handled.
Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to his GOP colleagues in the Senate seeking to counter what he called “misconceptions” about sexual assaults in the military. And he said lawmakers should wait for the recommendations from an independent panel before making changes to the military justice system.
Inhofe, of Tulsa, said in his letter that it would be “a grave mistake” to remove sexual assault cases from the chain of command and would provide no benefit to “those vulnerable victims who each of us want to support.”
In the wake of several controversies over sexual assault in the military — including a case in which the conviction of a pilot was overturned by a general — New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has gathered bipartisan support for legislation that would give more authority to independent military prosecutors.
Gillibrand's office released a fact sheet this week that said her legislation “seeks to reverse the systemic fear that numerous victims of military sexual assault have told us they have in deciding whether to report the crimes committed against them due to the clear bias and inherent conflicts of interest posed by the military chain of command's current sole decision-making power.”
The senator's fact sheet cited a study showing that “25% of women and 27% of men who received unwanted sexual contact indicated the offender was someone in their military chain of command.”
Gillibrand, a Democrat, said she has 44 senators backing her bill; she needs 51.