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Stats demonstrate sex cases should stay within chain of command, says admiral

4-star: AF prosecuted when civilian courts declined

Jul. 31, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Vice Chairman, Joint C
Navy Adm. James Winnefeld (Navy)
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The Air Force sent to court-martial 10 sexual assault cases that civilian authorities declined to prosecute over the last two years. Nine ended in convictions; in seven the accused either went to jail, were kicked out of the military, or both.

Navy Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made his case for keeping court-martial decisions about sex crimes within the chain of command in a July 23 letter to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Army pursued 49 such cases in the same time period, sending 32 to court-martial and getting an 81 percent conviction rate. The Marine Corps sent to court-martial 28 cases, with 16 resulting in convictions. The Navy handled six cases that civilian law enforcement wouldn’t pursue, three of which went to trial and one that resulted in a conviction.

“I believe these statistics demonstrate the personal ownership commanders take in the discipline of their units — even in the face of often challenging circumstances,” Winnefeld wrote to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. “Commanders recognized the need to hold service members accountable for their crimes both for the sake of justice and to preserve good order and discipline.”

None of the services keeps track of cases that civilian prosecutors pursue when the military declines to prosecute. The Air Force could recall no such instances, Winnefeld wrote.

Levin, like Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has endorsed a number of changes to the military criminal justice system. But he has withheld support from any move that would strip commanders of the ability to refer sexual assault cases to court-martial.

Some lawmakers — and particularly advocates of military sexual assault victims — have said the only way to ensure victims are protected and offenders held accountable is to create an independent system made up of military lawyers to handle such cases.

McCaskill held a press conference July 25 after coming under fire from some advocates and victims, who accused her of standing in the way of vital reforms. A plan she supports requires automatic review by the service secretaries when commanders disagree with legal counsel’s recommendation to send a case to court-martial.

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