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Boxer, Ted Cruz agree on military justice bill

Mark the date: This is one of the few times you ever will see U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Ted Cruz supporting the same cause.

Barbara BoxerBoxer, the California liberal, and Cruz, the Tea Party darling from Texas, are among 53 Senators – 44 Democrats and nine Republicans – who have publicly voiced support for a bill to create an independent military justice system. The Senate is expected to vote next week on S.1752, the Military Justice Improvement Act by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., as well as on additional sexual assault reforms sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

“It is time to bring an end to the broken promises of ‘zero tolerance’ for sexual assault. Enough already,” Boxer said in a news release. “It is time to fix our military justice system and to give survivors a chance at the justice they deserve by enacting the Military Justice Improvement Act.”

My Approved PortraitsCruz commended Gillibrand for her leadership on the issue, saying the bill “will address the most serious crimes in the military while enabling commanders to focus on their wartime mission and ensure that the rights of both victims and those accused of crimes are protected. Our strongest allies have adopted similar military justice changes and their experience shows us that this can be done without harming the chain of command or military readiness. I look forward to continue working with her on this important issue.”

Victims of military sexual assault often have described feeling fearful when deciding whether to report the crimes, because the military chain of command has an inherent conflict of interest and bias in deciding whether to prosecute.

The bill moves the decision whether to prosecute any crime punishable by one year or more in confinement to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors who aren’t beholden to the usual chain of command. Excepted from the bill are 37 serious crimes that are uniquely military in nature, such as disobeying orders or going absent without leave, plus all crimes punishable by less than a year behind bars.

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Speier bill would revamp military justice for rape

A Bay Area congresswoman today re-introduced a bipartisan bill to overhaul how the military handles rape and sexual-assault cases.

Jackie SpeierRep. Jackie Speier said her Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention (STOP) Act is necessary in part because a half million U.S. veterans are survivors of military sexual trauma and an estimated 19,000 rapes or sexual assaults occur in the armed services every year, yet only about 13.5 percent are ever reported.

“The epidemic of military rape and sexual assault is a damning indictment of the military judicial system’s treatment of these cases,” Speier, D-San Mateo, said in a news release. “True justice demands impartiality which is absent in a system that relies on individual commanders who have no legal expertise to determine which assailants get prosecuted and which go free. Instead of commanders making decisions about guilt or innocence, no matter how senior, an independent military office of trained experts should determine how these cases are treated.”

The STOP Act would take the prosecution, reporting, oversight, investigation and victim care of sexual assaults out of the hands of the normal chain of command and put it in the hands of an autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office, housed in the military and staffed by both civilian and military personnel.

“Victims of rape and sexual assault should not have to choose between career-ending retaliation and seeking judicial action against their attackers,” Speier said. “In 2011, only eight percent of sexual assailants were referred to courts martial, or military court, compared with 40 percent of similar offenders prosecuted in the civilian court system. If they believed that their perpetrator would be prosecuted, convicted, and punished, it would be worth it to come forward.”

“The STOP Act creates the fair judicial system that our service members deserve, one that relies on the facts of the case not the whims of a commander.”

The bill’s 83 original cosponsors include Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; George Miller, D-Martinez; and Mike Thompson, D-Napa.

It’s also supported by national advocacy groups including Protect Our Defenders, American Association of University Women, National Council of Jewish Women, Feminist Majority, and the makers and followers of the documentary “Service: When Women Come Marching Home.”

“We applaud Republicans and Democrats for coming together to protect our service men and women,” Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, said in a news release. “Fundamental changes are urgently needed. This crisis, this national embarrassment has gone on far too long.”

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Boxer: Santa Cruz cop killer was military snafu

At a U.S. Senate hearing today on sexual assault in the military, Sen. Barbara Boxer cited the deadly shootings of two Santa Cruz detectives by Army veteran Jeremy Goulet as an example of military justice gone awry.

Boxer, D-Calif., testified before the Boxer testified at the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel’s oversight hearing.

“Last month, an Army veteran shot and killed two Santa Cruz police detectives who were attempting to question him over a sexual assault allegation,” Boxer said. “In the aftermath of this shooting, we learned that even though the former soldier had faced two separate rape charges while serving in the Army, charges against him were dropped and he was discharged without a conviction as part of a plea bargain.”

“Now what is it going to take to convince the military that sexual assault is a violent and vicious crime and that those who perpetuate it are capable of other violent crime—including murder?” Boxer asked. “What is it going to take? It is a vicious, violent crime, and those capable of that vicious crime are capable of other crimes—yes, murder.”

Boxer’s comments echo those that former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made last week at the two slain officers’ funeral.

“We do know that he had a history of sexual violence both in and out of the military. And for whatever reason, people somehow always looked the other way,” Panetta had said, acknowledging that military sex offenders were not always prosecuted for the offenses they committed. “And at some point, somebody pays a price.”