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Amos: One sexual assault can 'undermine everything'

Jun. 4, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Dana Chipman, Raymond Odierno, Martin Dempsey, Ric
Judge Advocate General of the Army Lt. Gen. Dana K. Chipman, left, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, second from left, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, second from right, and Legal Counsel to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Brig. Gen. Richard C. Gross, right, arrive June 4 to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on pending legislation regarding sexual assaults in the military. At the witness table are, from left, Judge Advocate General of the Coast Guard Rear Adm. Frederick J. Kenney Jr., Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., Staff Judge Advocate to the Marine Corps Commandant Maj. Gen. Vaughn A. Ary, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos, Chipman, Odierno, Dempsey, Gross, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, Judge Advocate General of the Navy Vice Adm. Nanette M. DeRenzi, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, and Judge Advocate General of the Air Force Lt. Gen. Richard C. Harding. (Susan Walsh / AP)
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The Marine Corps is attacking sexual assault in the ranks but it needs the chain of command to remain fully involved in the prosecution of rape and assault cases, Gen. James Amos said Tuesday.

Testifying along with the other Joint Chiefs before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Marine Corps commandant said top-down military leadership has been responsible for winning on the battlefield and will ultimately be responsible for the culture change needed to eradicate rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment from the ranks.

“Commanding officers never delegate responsibility,” Amos said. “Commanding officers are charged with building and leading their team to withstand the rigors of combat by establishing the highest level of trust throughout their unit. Unit commanding officers set the command climate.”

Amos pledged to “aggressively pursue and fight anything that destroys the spiritual health of the Marine Corps and detracts from our ability to fight our nation’s wars. That includes sexual assault. A single sexual assault in a unit can undermine everything that a commanding officer and every Marine in that unit has worked so hard to achieve.”

But while Amos and other senior military leaders vowed to address the scourge of rape and sexual assault from the ranks, none are willing to take such a dramatic step as removing the chain of command from the courts-martial process.

“The risks inherent to military service should never include the risk of sexual assault,” said Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. “Sexual assault is a crime that demands accountability and consequences. It betrays the very trust on which our profession is founded.

“We can and must do more,” Dempsey told the committee. “We must be open to every idea and option to accelerate meaningful, institutional change.”

Military leaders are concerned that one bill pending before the committee, the Military Justice Improvement Act, would go too far by stripping the chain of command from responsibility for deciding when to bring criminal charges against an accused member and reviewing and potentially modifying a verdict or sentence.

While poor handling of rape and sexual assault cases is the primary reason for the rash of legislation, this bill, S 871, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would apply to all serious offenses not directly related to maintaining good order and discipline.

Dempsey said the military “must be open to every idea and option,” but added that “reducing command responsibility could adversely affect the ability of the commander to enforce professional standards and ultimately to accomplish the mission.”

“Of course, commanders and leaders of every rank must earn trust to engender trust in their units,” Dempsey said. “Most do. Most do not allow unit cohesion to mask an undercurrent of betrayal.”

Congress will act. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the armed services committee chairman, said every committee member “wants to drive sexual assault out of the military.”

“Even one case of sexual assault in the military is one too many,” he said. “Nobody who volunteers to serve our country should be subject to this kind of treatment by those with whom they serve.”

Levin said he understands the military’s concerns, but “we cannot successfully address this problem without a culture change throughout the military.”

“Discipline is at the heart of the military culture, and trust is its soul. The plague of sexual assault erodes both the heart and the soul,” Levin said.

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