WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday blocked a bill that would have stripped senior military commanders of their authority to prosecute or prevent charges for alleged rapes and other serious offenses, capping an emotional, nearly yearlong fight over how to curb sexual assault in the ranks.
The vote was 55-45, short of the 60 necessary to move ahead on the legislation sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. Defeated but unbowed, the senator received hugs from Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., after the vote.
The Pentagon's leadership vigorously opposed the measure, arguing that officers should have more responsibility, not less, for the conduct of the men and women they lead.
Proponents of the bill insisted that far-reaching changes in the Uniform Code of Military Justice are necessary to curb a scourge of rapes and sexual assaults. Under Gillibrand's proposal, the decision to take serious crimes to courts-martial would be given to military trial lawyers who have prosecutorial experience and would operate out of a newly established office independent of the chain of command.
Gillibrand's effort bitterly divided the Senate in a battle that smashed conventional lines on gender and political party.
Read more on this story in Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.