SHAHEEN: WE MUST FIX OUR BROKEN MILITARY JUSTICE SYSTEM

On Senate floor Shaheen calls for passage of Military Justice Improvement Act

March 06, 2014

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Shaheen (D-NH) went to the Senate floor this afternoon to call for passage of the Military Justice Improvement Act of which Shaheen is an original cosponsor. As a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee Shaheen has been a leader in the fight against military sexual assault

A vote on the Military Justice Improvement Act is expected as early as this afternoon.

Senator Shaheen’s remarks as prepared for delivery are included below:

Thank you Madam President.

I rise today in strong support of Senator Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act.

I was proud to be an original cosponsor of this legislation, and after more than a year of meeting with military sexual assault survivors and bringing attention to this ongoing crisis, I am encouraged by the historic opportunity we have today.

We not only have the opportunity to make meaningful, commonsense reforms to our military criminal justice system, but we also the chance to send a powerful message to the tens of thousands of victims, many of whom have been suffering quietly for decades, that what happened to them is unacceptable, it’s criminal, and it will no longer be tolerated. 

Let’s be clear: sexual assault is a crime.  It is not an accident. It is not a mistake.  It is a violent, criminal act often perpetrated by serial offenders.

We cannot allow sexual assault perpetrators to escape justice in any setting, but particularly when these assaults occur within our nation’s military.

Yet, it’s been 23 years since Tailhook, and despite the repeated assurances that the chain of command is committed to addressing this issue, we are no closer to a solution.  

How long will we wait? How many tens of thousands of our sons and daughters will be victims? How many will be victims without reliable access to justice?

We have a rare opportunity today to end one of the fundamental structural biases that persists in our military criminal justice system.

This is not about undermining battle field command, or good order and disciple, no one wants to do that.  This is about access to justice. 

Survivors overwhelmingly tell us that the reason they don’t come forward is because they do not trust that the chain of command will handle their case objectively – a fact that has been repeatedly acknowledged by military leaders during Armed Services Committee hearings. 

Placing the decision on whether to go trial in the hands of experienced military prosecutors is a common-sense reform that will go a long way toward promoting transparency and accountability within our system. 

Our military’s traditions of honor and respect are too important to continue to be plagued by the status quo.

We strengthen our military when victims of sexual assault have the confidence to come forward and report crimes, and we remove fear and stigma from the process.

We strengthen our military when we are able to deliver fair and impartial justice on behalf of victims.  Their eyes are upon us today.   

There is strong, bipartisan support behind the Gillibrand bill – and it’s on full display here today.

I urge all of my colleagues to support this measure.