Last month, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand made it known she would
continue to pursue military justice reform to better prosecute cases involving
sexual assault. Now,
as The Hill reports, the Pentagon has issued a letter to the Senator's office countering
her claims and insisting that her grasp on the latest military sexual
assault data is questionable.
"The review that was conducted pursuant to your concerns, which I
have enclosed, shows that the central issues raised in the report and
article on based on certain misunderstandings of how the military justice
system works, lack of access to information contained in the full case
files or a disagreement on what 'counts' as a sexual assault,"
reads the letter, written by Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
The review referred to is the latest military sexual assault data Gillibrand
is using to support her proposal to use independent prosecutors in military
sexual assault cases. The data, which was compiled by the advocacy group
Protect Our Defenders and the Associated Press, suggests the military
has continually misrepresented sexual assault cases and that commanders,
in many cases, chose not to pursue them, as well.
Gillibrand's latest data is based on 2013 Pentagon testimony to the
Senate Armed Services Committee that focused on 93 military sexual assault
cases that then-Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. James
Winnefeld claimed civilian prosecutors refused to take on. Protect Our
Defenders and AP discovered, however, that prosecutors claimed that they
would have taken the cases and that two-thirds of them were either reclassified
as other crimes or not pursued by commanders.
The Pentagon claims, however, that the data has been misconstrued. "The
military has not historically kept records attempting to distinguish cases
that are ‘declined’ or ‘deferred’ in this manner,
and based on the data available, it would be difficult to make those assessments
retroactively," its letter stated.
On the case reclassifications, the Pentagon also said this: "It is
a common practice for prosecutors to attempt to obtain convictions for
collateral charges as well, which provide additional methods of holding
an individual responsible for his or her acts in the event of an acquittal
for the charge of sexual assault."
Senator Gillibrand has already issued a response to the Pentagon letter,
calling it inadequate. "The secretary’s letter is an eight-page
list of excuses when all he should be doing now is giving a simple apology
and making a plan to hold whomever prepared the misleading testimony accountable,"
the senator wrote in a statement.
The response from Protect Our Defenders also took issue with the letter.
The organization's president, Don Christensen, is a former Air Force
colonel and lawyer with decades of experience and found the response inaccurate.
"If I don’t understand military justice, something’s
wrong," he told reporters.
Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law
is a 10+ year U.S. Army veteran who now protects the rights and interests
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