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Cracking down at the Pentagon

by CASEY BENZI Staff Writer

Defense secretary Chuck Hagel called for military law reform in early April, specifically concerning the power convening authorities have over dismissing serious crimes.

As of now, the cases are heard by commanding officers in the military who will sometimes side with the guilty party. Many suspects of rape or other sexual misconduct have been able to walk away from court with no charges most often because their commanding officer “made the arrangements.” Some officers that have perhaps helped suspects either do not want to look bad if one of their soldiers are guilty or they may even have had a hand in the assaults themselves.

Anu Bhagwati is the executive director of Service Women’s Action network and she feels that immediate action needs to be taken to make sure our troops are provided with “the same legal remedies as all civilians whom they protect and defend.”

“We can start by ensuring that military crimes are no longer handled by commanding officers, but rather by impartial attorneys and judges,” says Bhagwati.

Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice states that a commanding officer has “absolute power to disapprove the findings [of a military judicial proceeding] and sentence, or any part thereof, for any or no reason, legal or otherwise.” This entitles the officers of separate military divisions to be able to dismiss serious charges against their subordinates.

Government officials such as Hagel are trying to introduce legislation to change the UCMJ. Changing the code will restrict officers from being able to dismiss any serious charges and must provide written explanation for overturning minor offenses.

Hagel believes that sexual harassment in the military is an utter disappointment and betrayal of the sacred oaths that the soldiers are required to take before they enter the military and are expected to follow during their time enrolled. Also in attempt at decreasing the number of these assault cases, Hagel announced the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention Initiative, and wants more people to take action for this cause instead of just speeches suggesting the need for change.

For some reason, more and more sexual assaults are happening in the military, to female and male soldiers alike. For example, any contact from groping to rape, has risen 37 percent in 2012 alone. This means in 2011 there were 19,000 reported cases of sexual assault and in 2012 that number climbed to 26,000 cases.

“I feel it is no one’s right to use their stature to commit any such acts of crime!” says freshman Alexis Land.

A recent case that startled many officials was when Sergeant First Class Michael McClendon videotaped fellow female colleagues in the showers and bathrooms where they were not aware of the cameras. Many citizens feel that cases like this are usually committed by insane, disgusting suspects and it is unusual to be committed by a military sergeant.

“When I hear there are sexual assaults in the U.S. military it makes me feel like we are losing trust of some of our troops. They were trained to do a specific job and that’s to protect the United States, not harm others. I think when the command officers hear of this they should do something about it instead of leaving it alone so the people don’t get in trouble. There are plenty of trusted troops that can replace them,” says freshman Victoria Kauffman.

If you were in a governmental position with adequate power for change, would you take any steps to help end sexual assault in the military? What would they be?

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