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.

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    How does Jackie feel about the gun show at the Cow Palace? She should focus on that sucker once she’s through with the Armed Forces.

  • JohnW

    Back in the day, we had a couple of expressions about the UCMJ:

    “Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.”

    “UCMJ stands for Uniform Code of Marsupial Justice.”

    I’m sure the military legal system is much better these days. But there are still problems, as illustrated by the matter addressed in Jackie Speier’s bill.

  • RR Senile Columnist

    Back in my day, there weren’t many gals in uniform. As for military justice, it works in a different environment. Come to think of it, the civilian sphere is far from perfect.

  • JohnW

    @3 “Come to think of it, the civilian sphere is far from perfect.”

    Yes. But if you work for XYZ Corporation and get raped by another employee, your boss can’t overturn a jury conviction.

    “Back in my day” for you must be a quite a while ago. There were plenty of women even in WW2, mostly nurses then.

    I was Army, but the school where I was on staff had students and faculty from all the military branches. There were plenty of women, officers and enlisted, from all branches. I don’t know the exact percentage, but I’ll guess that a third were women. It was 1969-71, so the Army and Navy women were still Women’s Army Corps (WAC’s) and WAVES. WAC’s became regular Army in 1978. WAVES became regular Navy in 1972.

  • champw

    They need to cover civilian rapes by the military as well. When a civilian is raped by someone in the military they get no help from most police (San Diego is really bad) because they don’t and can’t always do anything because the military protects them.
    What they need to do is hold the men accountable that ignore the rapes. When guys with 20 years are dishonorably discharged for ignoring rapes then they will take it seriously. Right now they keep claiming ignorance and we let them. And NCIS needs to go because they clearly have allowed this to happen and have been ineffective. Rip the military apart and hold them accountable.