Hot on the heels of stinging comments about military sex crimes made by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at two Santa Cruz police officers’ funeral Thursday, a Bay Area congresswoman will introduce a bill she says would help reform the system.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, will introduce her Military Judicial Reform Act to strip military commanders of their power to overturn legal decisions or lessen sentences handed down by judges and juries at courts martial. It’s inspired by the recent case of a lieutenant general at Aviano Air Base overturning the sexual-assault conviction of an officer who had been sentenced by a jury of his peers to a year in prison and dismissal from the service.
Speier’s office says a written statement from the Aviano victim will be read at her Capitol Hill press conference Tuesday by Nancy Parrish, president of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders. Also scheduled to speak are Susan Burke, an attorney who has filed lawsuits on behalf of dozens of victims of military rape or sexual assault, and Kirby Dick, the director of the Academy-Award-nominated documentary “The Invisible War.”
Speier last year carried a bill to create a Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Council, composed mainly of civilians, as an independent entity outside the Defense Department’s chain of command. This council would appoint and advise an office responsible for investigating, preventing and reducing sexual assaults, and a director responsible for overseeing prosecution of all sex offenses in the military. Though it had 133 cosponsors, the bill never made it out of committee.