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How To Deal With The Military Pandemic Of Sexual Assault

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch

Given the more than 60 Democratic and Republican votes lined up, the Senate is poised to move forward with a new bill that would change the way the military handles sexual assault and other felony crimes by service members. Sponsored by Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), the new law would assign decision-making on sexual-assault cases and a host of other felonies, including some hate crimes, to a specially trained team of uniformed prosecutors.

While the bill will indeed inch the military away from its antiquated practice of allowing commanders to decide whether to prosecute their own officers and soldiers on sexual-assault allegations, if baffles me that it's still allowed to handle its own violent crimes rather than having them dealt with through our criminal justice system.

Why should our troops enjoy such protected status, as though they exist in a separate reality from the rest of society? Arguably, in these years, the face of America has indeed been militarized, whether we like it or not. After all, we've just lived through two decades of endless war, American-style, in the process wasting significantly more than $6.4 trillion dollars, more than 7,000 uniformed lives, and scores of health- and safety-related opportunity costs.

Meanwhile, it's taken years for the public and members of Congress to begin to recognize that it matters how the military treats its own — and the civilians with whom they interact. (After all, many felonies committed by such personnel against civilians, at home and abroad, are prosecuted within the military-justice system.) That Congress has taken so long to support even such a timid bill in a bipartisan fashion and that few think to question whether felonies committed by American soldiers should be prosecuted within the military, suggests one thing: that we're a long, long way from taking responsibility for those who kill, maim, and rape in all our names.

I'm a military spouse. My husband has been a U.S. Navy officer for 18 years. During the decade we've been together, he's served on two different submarines and in three Department of Defense and other federal staff jobs in Washington.

In many ways, our family has been very fortunate. We have dual incomes that offer us privileges the majority of Americans, let alone military families, don't have, including being able to seek healthcare providers outside the military's decrepit health system. All this is just my way of saying that when I critique the military and my experiences in it, keep in mind that others have suffered so much more than my family.

The Military Criminal Justice System

Let me also say that I do understand why the military needs its own system for dealing with infractions specific to its mission (when, for instance, troops desert, defy orders, or make gross errors in judgment). The Uniform Code of Military Justice(UCMJ) is federal law enacted by Congress. Analogous to our civilian legal system, it is of no small importance, given the potential cost to our nation's security should the deadly equipment the military owns not be operated with the utmost sobriety and discretion.

In such cases, the standards listed in the UCMJ are implemented according to procedures outlined in another document, the Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM). Essentially, the MCM provides a framework for trying alleged offenses of various kinds within the military, laying out the maximum penalties that may be imposed for each of them.

Included in this are procedures for nonjudicial punishments in which a commanding officer, rather than a court-martial judge and a panel of other personnel (functionally, a jury), determines what penalties are to be imposed on a service member accused of a crime. Crucially, the results of such nonjudicial punishment do not appear on an officer's criminal record.

Among other things what this means is that a commanding officer can decide that a soldier accused of sexual assault will be subjected to nonjudicial punishment rather than a military trial. In that case, the public will have no way of knowing that he committed such an act. No less crucially, the MCM leaves it entirely up to the commanding officer of a soldier's unit whether or not such allegations will be dealt with at all, no matter the format. That's why the Senate bill under consideration is of importance. At least it will remove the decision-making process on prosecuting reported assault cases from officers who may have a vested interest in covering up such assaults.

Because here's the grim reality, folks: sexual assault in the military is a pandemic all its own. According to a 2018 Defense Department survey across five branches of the armed services (the most recent such document we have), 20,500 assaults occurred that year against active duty women and men. Yet fewer than half of those alleged crimes were reported within the military's justice system and just 108 convictions resulted.

What this tells us is that commanding officers exercise a stunning decision-making power over whether allegations of rape get tried at all — and generally use it to suppress such charges. Consider, for example, that, of the 2,339 formally reported sexual assaults that military investigators recommended for arbitration in 2019, commanders took action in only 1,629 of those cases. In other words, they left about a third of them unexamined.

Of the ones brought to the military justice system, fewer than half were actually tried in front of a judge through the court-martial system. At worst, the remainder of the accused received nonjudicial punishments from commanders — extra duties, reductions in pay or rank — or were simply discharged from the service. And all this happened entirely at the discretion of commanding officers.

Those same commanders, who have the power to try (or not try) allegations of violence, generally have a vested interest in covering up such accusations, lest they reflect badly on them. And while you might think that sexual-assault survivors would have a say in command culture, as it happens their "anonymous" contributions to such reports sometimes turn out not to be anonymous at all. In smaller units, commanders can sometimes figure out who has reported such incidents of violence and misconduct, since such reports regularly include the gender and rank of those who have come forward.

All of this explains why the Gillibrand-Ernst bill is a welcome departure from a classic case of the fox guarding the henhouse. At least those with less of a conflict of interest and (hopefully) more than just a token amount of training when it comes to sexual assault, harassment, and other forms of violence will be assigned the job of deciding whether or not to try alleged felonies.

Let's Take This Further

And yet, while that bill is far better than nothing, it's distinctly a case of too little, too late. The real problem is that Americans generally view the military just as the military views itself — an island apart from the general populace, deserving of special allowances, even when it comes to sexual crimes.

I recently spoke with a young female Air Force recruit who saw the military as her sole means of paying for a four-year university without carrying crippling debt into middle age. What struck me, however, was how much more she feared attacks by male airmen than the possibility that she might ever be wounded or killed in a combat zone. And in that ordering of fears, she couldn't be more on target, as the stats on combat deaths and reported sexual assault bear out.

In addition, these days, new recruits like her enter the military in the shadow of the bone-chilling murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old Army soldier. She went missing in April 2020 from Fort Hood, Texas, shortly after reporting that a superior officer had sexually solicited her, repeatedly made an example of her after she refused him, and finally approached her while she was taking care of her personal hygiene. Her dismembered body was later found in a box on the base. Her alleged killers included a soldier who had been accused of sexual harassment in a separate case and his civilian girlfriend. An Army report on Guillen's murder and the events that led to it concluded that none of her supervisors had taken appropriate action in response to her allegations of sexual harassment.

The murder sparked public outrage, including among women in the armed services who quickly coined the Twitter hashtag #IamVanessaGuillen, and went public with their own accounts of being assaulted while in the military. Her case would, in fact, be a major catalyst driving the Senate bill, which has attracted support from a striking range of sponsors, including Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Though I never thought I'd find myself quoting Ted Cruz, let me echo his reaction to the bill: "It's about damn time."

A Small Start

Yet Guillen's murder and the legislation it sparked begs this question: If it took the death of a young woman who reported sexual harassment to launch such a relatively timid bill, what will it take to move the judging of violent crimes entirely off military bases and into the regular court system? I shudder to think about the answer to that question.

The morning I went into labor with my daughter, my husband was on a military base a few minutes away, carrying out his duties as executive officer on a ballistic missile submarine. As the pains grew stronger with each passing hour, I phoned the base to let him know that I was in labor. I was eager to reach him in time to be taken to the hospital before a pending snow storm made driving through the foothills of the Cascade Mountains treacherous.

His colleagues repeatedly insisted that he was unavailable, even to them. Finally, I said to one of them between gasps, "Oh for Christ's sake, just tell him I'm in labor and I need him to drive me to the hospital!"

Four hours later, having heard nothing from the base, I watched my husband, looking beleaguered and sad, walk through the door. No one had even bothered to give him my message. As I sat up on the floor where I was trying to cope with the pain, he slumped momentarily on the couch in his blue camo uniform and told me that he'd been called upon to assist in the hearing of a sexual-abuse and possible rape case involving the daughter of one of his sailors. I listened, while he prepared to take me to the hospital, as he described what he had dealt with. I could see the stress on his face, the drawn look that came from hours of listening to human suffering.

At least, that case was heard. However, another point is no less important: that a group of men — my husband and other commanding officers with, assumedly, zero knowledge about sexual assault — had been placed in charge of hearing a case on the possible rape of a child.

In scores of other cases I've heard about in my years as a military spouse and as a therapist for veterans and military families, I've been similarly struck by the ways in which male commanders without training have treated the survivors of such assaults and women more generally. I've seen some of those same men joke about how women's behavior and moods, even abilities, change depending on their "time of the month" or pregnancy status. I've heard some make sexist or homophobic jokes about female and gay service members or heard about them threatening to "rip them another asshole" when fellow shipmates failed to meet expectations. Within the military, violence is the first thing you notice.

That day, trembling with the pangs of late-stage labor as my husband rushed me through the falling snow to the hospital with our daughter about to be born, I thought: Where will she be safe in this world? Who's responsible for protecting her? For protecting us? I hugged my belly tighter and resolved to try to do my part.

And today, years later, I still wonder whether anyone beyond a group of senators and military advocates will show an interest in holding service members accountable for respecting the dignity of the rest of us.

Andrea Mazzarino, a TomDispatch regular, co-founded Brown University's Costs of War Project. She has held various clinical, research, and advocacy positions, including at a Veterans Affairs PTSD Outpatient Clinic, with Human Rights Watch, and at a community mental health agency. She is the co-editor of War and Health: The Medical Consequences of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Smearing An Eminently Qualified Black Woman Is Business As Usual

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call

She has been endorsed by many law enforcement groups, including the National Association of Police Organizations, yet she was accused of being anti-police. Baseless innuendo thrown her way has been refuted by support from the National Council of Jewish Women, the Anti-Defamation League, and dozens of other local, state, and national Jewish organizations. She's been tagged as "extreme," which only makes sense if being an advocate for an equitable society qualifies.

The nomination of Kristen Clarke, President Joe Biden's choice to serve as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, barely made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. Panelists split 11-11 along party lines, and then on Tuesday, the full Senate voted 50-48 to discharge the nomination from the committee, setting up a final floor vote.

Is anyone surprised at the roadblocks this nomination has faced?

Clarke, a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, is a Black woman and president and executive director (now on leave) of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law — and that may be the problem. The fight for "civil rights" for all, or even truthfully teaching about the struggle that made the fight necessary, has become controversial in some quarters, especially the Republican congressional caucuses.

Women of color have had a particularly tough time before the Senate Judiciary Committee with those who won't let the facts get in the way of partisan pushback. Vanita Gupta, despite her experience and endorsements, was attacked at her hearing before her eventual confirmation as associate attorney general. And then it was Clarke's turn.

The Usual Suspects

Some of it was comical, as when Sen. John Cornyn, took Clarke's satirical college writings criticizing the racism of The Bell Curve as literal. Some of it was just bullying, the well-trod territory of Cornyn's Texas partner, Sen. Ted Cruz, who insisted that a Newsweek column, in which Clarke agreed with Biden's call for more police funding, said the opposite.

Usually, presidents get the benefit of the doubt when choosing their teams. President Donald Trump certainly did, despite questionable qualifications for a host of them. His education secretary, Betsy DeVos, not only had no education experience, she also barely hid her contempt for the public schools neither she nor any of her children attended. But the majority of Republicans approved of her, and her prioritizing of Christian and charter schools.

Fellow Texan and former governor of the state Rick Perry got Cruz's vote for secretary of energy, the department he forgot he wanted to eliminate during his infamous "oops" moment at a presidential debate in 2011. Perry also admitted he had to play catch-up on what the department actually did.

You can't make this stuff up.

Hypocrisy is not exactly new to Washington. Recently, Republican lawmakers were falling all over themselves to speechify the honoring of law enforcement during National Police Week. North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, in a floor speech, recognized officers "willing to risk their own lives to protect others" and warned that "demonization of law enforcement will have lasting consequences, and it will ultimately make all of us less safe." This, as members of his GOP are resisting calls to investigate the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol and downplaying injuries suffered by officers protecting those lawmakers' hides.

A Familiar Refrain

Most every Black person gets a certain bit of oft-repeated parental advice: "You have to work twice as hard to get half as far." It's resulted in a lot of overworking achievers (too close for comfort right here), and a lot of stuffed résumés. But even if you follow it to the letter, as Clarke did when she earned a scholarship to an elite prep school that took her far from her Brooklyn home and on to positions in both Republican and Democratic administrations, you might get smeared when you dare to be excellent while Black, and use that excellence to make life better for all Americans.

Many Black female leaders, allies and organizations have supported Clarke, who would be the first Black woman to hold the post, and she would certainly be a needed change from the previous administration. Business leaders, perhaps less timid after finding their voice on other issues, have signaled their approval. The Biden Justice Department, under new leadership, has tried to rebuild its mission after the Trump team seemed bound and determined to make a mockery of its name.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, who did pass muster this time at his Senate confirmation after then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to consider his Supreme Court nomination by President Barack Obama, is settling in with a full agenda. Garland has announced that the DOJ is reinstating consent decrees to reign in rogue police departments and going after white supremacists that Trump's own FBI director deemed the No. 1 domestic terror threat.

It's a big job that the likes of Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, not only ignored but subverted. In Clarke, the department would get a professional who has seen unequal treatment in her work and up close.

As Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and another Black woman who is about the country's unfinished business, told theGrio: "Those who oppose her confirmation are actually opposed to the confirmation of a real civil rights advocate to run the Civil Right Division. They don't really oppose Kristen — they oppose robust civil rights enforcement."

In her own remarks before the Judiciary Committee, Clarke made her mission clear by quoting the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, under whose leadership the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund was founded: "'Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.' I've tried to do just that at every step of my career."

If only her opponents could say the same.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

#EndorseThis: Bette Midler's New Parody Nukes GOP 'Liars-Thugs-And-Traitors'

The legendary Bette Midler is channeling her inner Mary Poppins in GOP's-A-Cult-For-Scammers-Liars-Thugs-And-Traitors-- a song parody of the Mary Poppins classic Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

The great chanteuse -- in association with MeidasTouch-- lets no prominent Republican escape her wrath, relentlessly roasting "Moscow Mitch, Cancun Ted, and all their imitators." And don't forget Matt Gaetz, "the Norman Bates of Liars-Thugs-And-Traitors."

To Bette, there are two bad words: "Tucker" and "Carlson."

Enjoy this blistering masterpiece. Just click!

GOP's-A-Cult-For-Scammers-Liars-Thugs-And-Traitors – A MeidasTouch & Bette Midler Production www.youtube.com

#EndorseThis: Randy Rainbow Puts GOP ‘Crackpot Villains’ On Blast

Randy Rainbow returns in a brilliant new video parody that opens with an "interview" of Sen. Josh Hawley.

The Missouri Republican who has “been canceled more times than [Rainbow's] subscription to Aaron Carter's OnlyFans page" was just the beginning, as he mercilessly roasted every notable Republican “crackpot" -- from Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, and Kevin McCarthy to Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and beyond.

“All the crackpot villains in the GOP only care to cover their behinds," Rainbow warbles to the tune of The Trolley Song from Meet Me in St. Louis . "And since the last election caused an insurrection, they've lost their goddamn minds."

Click and cackle! It's one of his best.

Clang, Clang, Clang Went Josh Hawley! - A Randy Rainbow Song Parody youtu.be