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Panel of (white, overwhelmingly male) military leaders at Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on sexual assault.
How does the military keep fending off attempts to seriously change its sexual assault culture? Through the excessive deference of many lawmakers and an enormous lobbying operation, the details of which, as reported by Politico's Darren Samuelsohn and Anna Palmer, are staggering.

In recent months, the Pentagon's big goal has been to block Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's proposal to take decisions about sexual assault and other major crimes prosecutions out of the hands of military commanders and put them in the hands of trained legal experts. The strength of that idea has the military scrambling to accept other important-but-not-strong-enough improvements to the failed anti-sexual assault efforts that have prevailed until now—and exercising its incredible advantages in lobbying Congress:

Nearly every Democratic and GOP member of the Armed Services committees has a career military officer working as a fellow—whose salary is paid by the Pentagon—to help craft legislation, unravel the department’s labyrinth of offices and sub-offices and decipher acronyms.

“Imagine if we had bankers serving as fellows for the Financial Services Committee. Would we do that?” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who has been pushing the military for years on sexual assault.

Plus there are Capitol Hill liaisons, members of the military who regularly meet with key Hill staff to make the Pentagon’s case on a variety of issues.

In addition to the military fellows and liaisons that appear to be stationed in every office, hallway, and bathroom of the Capitol and congressional office buildings, it's not exactly hard for top officers to get meetings with lawmakers. And in all of this, members of Congress are all too eager to do what the military wants, even when, as in this case, there is no way to argue that the military's efforts are anything but a failure:
“They’re managing the day to days of it, I dare say if they’re not supportive of something, the likelihood is we’re going to have problems with it,” said [Republican Sen. Richard] Burr, a member of West Point’s Board of Visitors. [...]

Chris Jehn, assistant secretary of defense for Force Management and Personnel under President George H.W. Bush, said too often lawmakers “defer to the judgment of senior military on so many issues and in my judgment the respect goes beyond the respect they ought to be given.”

The military is in essence demanding that it get the right to continue to fail to prevent and prosecute sexual assault against members of the military. It succeeded in the Senate Armed Services Committee, it is taking the fight to the full Senate as Gillibrand continues to press for the change that's needed, and it will doubtlessly prevail in the Republican-controlled House. Expertise at a profession is important. But when you're failing to stop something that you claim you now, finally, understand is really truly a problem, and your failure is allowing high levels of sexual assault to continue, it is the rankest arrogance to demand that the problem remain in your hands. That's the military's position, and it would be a failure of Congress' oversight role to allow it to prevail.

Originally posted to Laura Clawson on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 09:44 AM PDT.

Also republished by Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The men at the top of the DoD don't get it (7+ / 0-)

    They have insulated themselves inside a bubble.

    And dissension is punished by not getting promoted. In this sense they are a totalitarian system with no checks and balances.

    And as the article says;

    But the military’s maneuvering in committee is a reminder that Gillibrand is confronting what many Democrats and Republicans have seen before her: The Pentagon rarely loses on Capitol Hill.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 10:02:02 AM PDT

    •  The constitution is pretty clear about civilians (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shockwave, gffish

      having control over the military, i.e. the President is Commander in Chief. So isn't Congress' willingness to side with the military unconstitutional?

      •  I dont know what you mean (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Shockwave

        by "willingness to side with the military."

        I also don't know why that would be unconstitutional simply because the President is CiC.

        •  The article says members of the military brass (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Shockwave, gffish

          are a constant presence in the Capitol. As lobbyists, they are able to sway votes their way.

          The founders clearly wanted to make the leaders of the military under the control of civilians. Probably to prevent military coups.

          So, if members of Congress are siding with the military, wouldn't that make it unconstitutional?

          In this instance, the military is balking, not wanting to cede power, and members of Congress, being persuaded by lobbyists, are siding with the wrong side.

          •  how are they (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Shockwave, Kevskos

            not under the control of civilian leaders?

            The Congress is free to:

            1. ignore them
            2. get rid of them
            3. keep them
            4. listen to them

            That they choose the latter two over the first two, for good or for bad, is on Congress isn't it?

            It certainly doesn't mean that there's a coup.

  •  I keep asking this question (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bamadad

    what evidence is there, on the prosecution side, that the military fails to prosecute now?

    I get there are a ton of horror stories, and I say that not sarcastically, from the way things were just a few years ago.

    Now, not every one of them is legit, but way too many are.

    In response, a lot of changes were made:

    1. Special Victim Prosecutors were created
    2. The victim advocate program was created
    3. High Quality civilian Experts were hired to help train prosecutors

    From my own personal experiences, cases that would have never made it passed a probable cause (Article 32) hearing when I was a defense counsel, went to trial when I was a chief prosecutor.

    Also from my personal experience, a fair number of cases taken to trial by the military are cases that the local civilians turned down and refused to prosecute.

    A couple of very unusual and rare occurrences happened where two CGs overturned convictions.  I think the solution of removing that power is fair, and it appears the military is on board with it.

    What I dont see utility in is the idea that folks seem to believe that more cases will go to trial if it's turned over to the lawyers (of which I am one).

    Quite frankly, it won't, at least not in any appreciable fashion.

    The CG in every case has to, as in is required to, get the legal opinion of his staff judge advocate.  The overwhelming vast majority of the time, the CG will go with that recommendation.

    The CGs are more susceptible to pressure to go forward these days than the attorneys would be. They are more likely in my experience to go forward when the sja says no as opposed to the alternative.

    I won't speak as much to the part about doing better at preventing sexual assaults.  While I believe the rate of sexual assault in the military is actually lower than say among the same 18-24ish cohort in civilian society, I don't have firm numbers on that, and even if true, I certainly understand that the military is and should be held to a higher standard.

    So I certainly understand that any level is too high, and we should always be finding ways to lower it.

    But as to prosecutions? What stats tell me exactly how worse the military is at getting convictions than the civilian sector? Or what percentage of claims go to trial versus the civilian sector? Does the latter even have those kind of numbers? Part of it is poor reporting by the military.  How much of those 27K are sexual assaults versus lower level sexual acts? It would help to have a much more detailed breakdown. But I dont believe that the military, today, at least in the army, is overall doing worse than the civilian sector and I know from first hand knowledge that those sexual assaults involving alcohol are often prosecuted in the military, but not in the local civilian area.

    •  Comparisons are odious. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      alpaca farmer, randomfacts, Kevskos

      We assume that members of the military services, having been recruited for their talents, expertise and good character are respectful of other human being, especially their co-workers.
      Those assumptions are probably false. The U.S. military is the coercive arm of a culture of obedience, an abusive form of social organization. And, if an organization is abusive at its core, it is unrealistic to expect that abusive behavior won't surface in personal relationships. Making respect for individual human rights a top priority risks undermining the culture of obedience, just as the expression of sexual preference does. It is going to be almost impossible to maintain the culture of obedience if abusive behaviors are ruled out of order.
      The distinction between "sexual assaults" and "lower level sexual acts" is telling. That every unwelcome physical encounter should be considered abusive does not seem to register. It is not surprising. After all, in the civilian world a "simple assault" which does no visible or permanent damage is classified as a misdemeanor and only charged if witnessed by an officer of the law (which suggests that the real 'victim' of such an assault is the official whose authority was insulted by the act of disrespect in his presence, not the person who got hit).
      Indeed, the military's response seems to be predicated on the same kind of thinking -- that an assault on a military person in a non- combat situation is an insult to the good order of the force and need not be concerning if order can be restored, if need be, by removing the injured individual.
      If women tempt men to misbehave, then they should be gone. Because, you know, self-control is actually inimical to good order. When compliance is the order of the day, voluntary compliance is not appreciated. Real obedience has to be coerced. That's why the orders issued in a culture of obedience are often irrational.
      Coercion, like power, has to be felt and, to be felt, it has to hurt. Letting subordinates hurt each other makes it easier for the guy at the top.

      We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

      by hannah on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 10:40:54 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  ideally yes (0+ / 0-)

        but reality it's a mixed bag.  There are few institutions that reflect general society more than the military.  I've been enlisted, non-commissioned officer, and now for the last decade or so an officer spanning 20+ years.

        I can't speak for the entire military obviously, but from my view, I see folks who are truly outstanding, just as you say.  Then I see folks lost, without direction, who are looking to the military for it.  And everything in between.  I've seen evil people, mean people, atheists and bible thumpers.

        The "culture of obedience" only goes so far.  There is plenty of individualism in the military.

        No, I don't believe differentiating between sexual assaults (rape, sexual assault, etc) and wrongful contact (pinches and pokes) is indicative of anything different than differentiating between murder and assault.  

        The fact that we recognize that they are different, and gradiate them does not mean we think one is not abusive, it just means that the other is more serious.

        It's why we have different sentences.  And yes, in the civilian world, what the military calls wrongful sexual contact, would often be called an assault at most...if not ignored completely.

        And no, the wrongful contact in the military doesn't have to be witnessed to be dealt with.

        Self-control is not inimical to good order, it's absolutely required to have good order.  I don't see how you have good order without self-control.

        I think your view of the military and how it works is quite different from my experience being a part of it. There are PLENTY of things wrong.  Way too many conservatives, way too much religion, I could go on and on.

        But in this narrow area, criminal prosecutions, I've not yet seen concrete differences between how the military prosecutes and how the civilians do in such a way that show specifics of what the military should do differently.

        •  The civilian criminal justice system sucks. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          randomfacts, Kevskos, gffish

          We'd like the military to be better.

          We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

          by hannah on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 11:16:42 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  fair enough (0+ / 0-)

            on that point.  My argument is that it is better already.  The military provides advocates for alleged victims, it prosecutes cases the civilians don't, has special victim prosecutors that basically do nothing but sexual assault cases, and it's constantly tweaking not only the people involved but the laws themselves.

            We are on our third set of sexual assault laws in the last 5 years in part because the middle set was ruled too biased against the accused by the courts.

            I think we probably need a fourth set quite frankly to get some definitions sussed out.

            I guess my point is, military bad, do better isn't particularly helpful.  And saying military commanders bad so put lawyers in charge and that will make it better, won't result in a significant change in the numbers of cases that go forward because the vast majority of the time, commander already listen to their lawyers.

            Putting it in the hands of the civilians in the form of a commission won't necessarily make things better.

            From my pov, if folks really want more convictions, don't change the process, change one of the two things:

            1. human beings and their biases and prejudices
            2. the beyond reasonable doubt standard to something lower

            I prefer the former over the latter by far, but the latter is way easier than the former (although not impossible, just gonna take time).

      •  How Coercion Works (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Kevskos
        Coercion, like power, has to be felt and, to be felt, it has to hurt. Letting subordinates hurt each other makes it easier for the guy at the top.
        To understand the psychology and practice of this principle, read The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy.

        Alpacas spit if you annoy them. So don't do that.

        by alpaca farmer on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 06:47:22 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  This is an absolute load of hokum. (0+ / 0-)
        It is going to be almost impossible to maintain the culture of obedience if abusive behaviors are ruled out of order.
        The distinction between "sexual assaults" and "lower level sexual acts" is telling. That every unwelcome physical encounter should be considered abusive does not seem to register.
        Here's the fly in your ointment - it's the eye of the beholder nature of "unwelcome" that renders your point ludicrous.

        This is a question of law.  You can't define "unwelcome" in any fashion other than "each person decides for themselves," which sets up a completely unenforceable standard.   To borrow your civilian example, does that 'officer of the law' file charges if he witnesses behavior that he considers simple assault if the parties involved are laughing and smiling?  No, because the context in which the behavior occurs makes it clear that it isn't really assault, right?  If he were to see the exact same behavior but observe one party saying "no, no," screaming, or trying to escape, then he'd get involved, right?

        If you don't think that similar situations exist in the military, you're sadly mistaken; they're quite universal.  Quick reality check - have you ever said anything like, "you don't know me well enough to say that" or "only my friends can do that"?  We all apply different measures of "welcome"/"unwelcome" based on the context.  How on earth do you expect anyone else to know your measures ahead of time for all instances?

        So, yes, it's completely legitimate to seek a distinction beween "sexual assault" and "lower-level sexual acts."   What you (and many others in this thread across several of Laura's diaries) seem to be espousing is some kind of system in which every soldier gets to define their own version of "unwelcome" and have it enforced by the chain of command or (as Giilbrand would have it) military attorneys.  NOW we get to something that would wreck the "culture of obedience" to which you so critically referred, because it sets up an environment in which no one knows the rules until a violation is named after the fact.

        Before you unload both barrels in my direction, let me give you an example from civilian life.  I'm a friendly guy; I'm one of those folks who nods, smiles and greets people as I walk down the street or enter a business.  Well, I had to walk through the same area of my workplace every day to reach my office; naturally, if I made eye contact with someone or shared an elevator with them, I'd say "good morning!", "how's life?" or "big plans for the weekend?"  Imagine my surprise to learn that a female worker had filed a complaint against me because she "didn't come to work to make small talk."  Her manager specifically asked if I had made any sexual comments or any physical contact; she replied that I had not, and that she didn't feel threatened in any way, but that it was just the small talk that bothered her.  He also asked if she had simply told me that she doesn't like small talk; she replied that she had not.  Here's the kicker: because it was a woman complaining about a man, I was nailed with a sexual harrassment complaint and informed that any further violation would result in immediate termination with no appeal.  In short, her personal definition of "unwelcome" put a huge stumbling block in my career path with that employer, because I apparently crossed a boundary that I didn't even know existed!

        A similar case from my military service (albeit back in the mid-1980s) would be the female 1LT who dressed in a skin-tight tank top and short shorts, walked through the all-male section of Battalion Avenue and then tried to press charges against a soldier who said, "you are looking GOOD, girl!"  I witnessed this firsthand; it came out during the subsequent discussion/investigation that she had no reason to be in that area on a Saturday, and that she had been seen passing through several all-male barracks areas that day.  She was obviously fishing, and the CO thought so as well.  A weaker chain of command would have slapped the kid with an Article 15, killed off his next promotion, and quite possibly ended his enlisted career as a result.

        Yes, military law has to pay more attention to sexual assault.  No, it won't be a simple matter.  Yes, there are obviously physical actions that can reasonably be considered improper in all circumstances.  No, we cannot support some eye-of-the-beholder standard.  Yes, there are both men and women who will abuse the system.  No, we cannot craft a system that will catch them all.  Yes, we need to find a way to improve the current process.  No, we should not bypass or dismantle the chain of command to do it.

        The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

        by wesmorgan1 on Thu Jul 18, 2013 at 07:49:34 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  The military wants to be like the Chinese legal (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gffish

    system in which judges are not required to be attorneys.

  •  I was in the military, and it's amazing the (7+ / 0-)

    amount of seen and unseen pressure to keep the status quo even with egregious activity.

    "What's the matter? You an individualist, boy?"

    "You need to get with the program."

    "You mess with me and your ass is grass, and I'm the lawnmower."

    "You a troublemaker? A malcontent? Fall in line!"

    "That's the way we do things around here. You got a problem with that? People with problems sometimes wind up in the stockade."

    Don't get me wrong, there were some fine people in the army, and I respected them, but there's too much looking the other way. (Hmmm? Does this sound like the cops?)

    "They come, they come To build a wall between us We know they won't win."--Crowded House, "Don't Dream It's Over."

    by Wildthumb on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 06:48:10 PM PDT

  •  I find it quite curious that as the (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gffish, something59

    military from the Pentagon on down has become more and more a bastion of Christian dominionism, there has been an corresponding increase in sexual assault and suicides.  Looks like the god squad is failing on this one. Time to boot the religionistas out!

    •  You read my mind, Fishtroller. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Fishtroller01

      I think the dominionists are behind it too. Like all fundamentalists, they don't see women as equals, deserving  of respect, but as interlopers into their sacred manly territory. So they decide to remind them who's boss.

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