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Speier readies bill to reform military justice

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.

Jackie SpeierRep. 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.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.