Outrage over an Air Force officer’s decision to overturn a jury’s guilty verdict in a sexual assault case has Republicans and Democrats joining forces on ambitious legislation to change the military justice system, reports the Huffington Post. Lawmakers have interpreted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s recent proposal to essentially strip commanding officers of their ability to reverse criminal convictions of service members as an opening to revise the decades-old Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Congress repeatedly has challenged the military’s lack of resolve in fighting sexual assault in its ranks, an offense considered far more prevalent than the reported cases of 3,192 in 2011, the most recent figure available. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that because so few victims report the crime, the real number is closer to 19,000 assaults. Hagel acknowledged the problem earlier this month in announcing his proposal to eliminate the discretion of a commanding officer to reverse a court martial ruling, except for minor offenses, and to require a commanding officer to explain in writing any changes that are made.