A day after the military joint chiefs presented united opposition to sweeping changes in how the military prosecutes sexual crimes, members of Congress, including Dayton’s representative, reiterated their support for legislation that would enact such changes.
The joint chiefs and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III are at loggerheads over reforms that would remove from the chain of command the decision to prosecute uniformed members of the military for sexual crimes.
Current legislation in this arena has the support of two-thirds of all senators, a filibuster-proof majority.
Supporters, such as U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, say the change would combat the problem of sexual assault and harassment in the military.
Turner is leading the push for this in the House. His bill, the Vanessa Guillén Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act, mirrors the Senate bill, shifting the decision to prosecute serious felony crimes from the chain of command and placing that call in the hands of trained, independent military prosecutors.
“We will pass this bill this year,” said U.S. Rep Jackie Speier, D-California, chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee.
Turner noted that members of both parties on both chambers of Congress support the proposal.
“When we have a system that has failed victims, everyone is failed, because everyone is a potential victim,” Turner said at a news conference at the Capitol on Wednesday.
Turner cited the 2007 rape and murder case of Marine Lance Corporal Maria Lauterbach, 20, whose family lived in Vandalia.
In May 2007, Lauterbach accused a fellow Marine corporal, Cesar Laurean, of sexually assaulting her at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Commanders denied her request for a transfer, and in December that year, Lauterbach was killed and buried in a shallow grave in the backyard of Laurean’s home.
In August 2010, a North Carolina jury found Laurean guilty of murdering Lauterbach, who was eight months pregnant at the time of her death.
His voice thick with emotion, Turner said Wednesday: “Today I dedicate my amendment to this bill to Maria Lauterbach.”
In April, a sexual assault charge was referred to general court-martial in the case of Air Force Maj. Gen. William Cooley, former commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, which is headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Air Force Materiel Command Commander Gen. Arnold Bunch Jr. referred against Cooley one charge under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, including three specifications of sexual assault under Article 120 against Cooley. Article 120 concerns sexual assault.
AFMC has not announced a time and place for the court-martial.
Turner’s bill concerns all serious, high-level felonies, not confining itself to sexual crimes. The congressman is co-chair of Congress’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response caucus.
“Under current law, commanders who do not have legal training make the decision on whether to prosecute a servicemember for major crimes, such as murder and rape, under the military justice system,” a joint news release from House supporters of the legislation says.
In raising opposition this week, Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed concern about that aspect of the bill, writing that removing commanders from the prosecution decision process “may have an adverse effect on readiness, mission accomplishment, good order and discipline, justice, unit cohesion, trust and loyalty between commanders and those they lead.”
However, he also wrote that when it came to sexual crimes, he is open to ideas, writing, “in the specific and limited circumstance of sexual assault, I remain open-minded to all solutions.”
Despite concerns expressed by the joint chiefs, Austin late Tuesday said the Pentagon will work with Congress to amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
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