Criticism of the military justice system “is not entirely unjustified,” but that doesn’t mean unit commanders should be cut out of key decisions involving the prosecution and punishment in rape and sexual assault cases, Coast Guard Commandant Robert Papp said Tuesday.
Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is considering legislation to change the military justice system to diminish command involvement in rape and assault cases, Papp said his service “will not tolerate the crime of sexual assault.”
“The violent crime of sexual assault plagues our society. It is unacceptable in any place. However, in the military it is especially repugnant because it breaks the sacred bond of trust between service members that is vital to readiness and our nation’s security,” Papp said.
Like the Joint Chiefs, who appeared at the same Tuesday hearing, Papp said changes in the Uniformed Code of Military Justice are worth considering but should not be done without careful thought.
“I am committed to changing our organizational culture,” he said, but has concerns that “dramatically changing our system of justice at the same time could impede those cultural changes.”
Like the other service chiefs, Papp said he worries about making the military more like the civilian criminal system, would “undermine commanders’ ability to maintain good order and discipline.”
“New policies, enhanced training, improved access to victim support services and greater communications provide us with important tools to achieve our goal of eliminating sexual assault from the Coast Guard,” he said. “Despite some progress, we must and will do more to combat sexual assault.”