COMMENTARY | For most of world history military service was a life of black-and-white, with your commanding officer dictating what was right and what was wrong. You did not disobey orders. Everything went through a superior. Rules were rules. Recently, however, America’s old-fashioned military has been changing. Last year, women were granted the right to serve in combat. Before women start showing up in front-line units en masse, however, legislators are confronting a growing culture of rape in the U.S. military. According to NBC, Congress is frustrated with an estimated 30 percent increase in military sexual assaults over the past three years and legislators are currently grilling the brass about it.
Many legislators are particularly upset that the military’s traditional chain of command has the power to nullify or reverse sex crimes investigations or sentences. Essentially, officers can unilaterally quash a finding of guilt against subordinates. They can also, due to the nature of military service, have tremendous impact on the lives of those who report sex crimes. Critics claim that their reports of being victimized are either ignored, lead to quick acquittals of the accused, or even result in the alleged victims themselves being punished, finding themselves criminally investigated or transferred to remote locations. Some in Congress want military sex crimes investigated and prosecuted outside the military chain of command to prevent these alleged problems.
Military commanders disagree with this proposal, and for good reason. Once a precedent is set of allowing military personnel to take their cases outside the established military chain of command, the number of offenses allowed to be investigated and prosecuted outside the chain of command is likely to grow. Who will investigate and prosecute? How efficient will they be? What can the military do with personnel who have appealed to, or are being investigated by, these extra-military courts and investigative agencies? Many military commanders obviously fear being stifled by a slow, unfamiliar extra-military investigative and judicial process that “seals off” large numbers of personnel deemed related to an investigation.
If the brass wants to avoid having outside courts and investigators gumming up the drill sergeant pace of military life, they had better come up with their own ways of ending the U.S. military’s culture of rape quickly. Those with stars on their shoulders will find their insular worlds rather civilian-ized in the near future if they cannot control their aggressive officers and enlisted personnel.