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Hagel open to 'all options' to deal with military sex assaults

May. 13, 2013 - 04:34PM   |  
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Stripping military commanders of their authority to handle sexual assault cases is one of many proposals that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is willing to consider, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.

Hagel has not ruled out any particular proposals at this point and is “open to any and all options,” spokesman George Little said.

Just last week, Hagel suggested he would oppose calls to remove sexual assault cases from the traditional military chain of command and potentially hand over prosecution of offenders to more independent authorities.

“It is my strong belief — and I think others on Capitol Hill and within our institution — that the ultimate authority has to remain within the command structure,” Hagel told reporters at a May 7 news briefing.

Little said Hagel has not changed his views on that matter, yet Little’s comments about all options being open may signal a subtle shift as pressure mounts on the Pentagon to step up sexual assault prevention and response efforts.

A report last week suggested that about 26,000 troops were the victims of sexual assault last year, according to anonymous surveys conducted by the Defense Department. Yet the number of sexual assaults that are officially reported is less than 3,400, according to the report.

Several lawmakers are drafting legislation that would revoke military commanders’ broad authority to handle sexual assault allegations lodged against troops under their command.

“I think it has to be taken out of the command decision-making,” Sen. Diane Feinstein, a powerful Democrat from California, said on NBC News’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday.

“It’s clear that there’s too much excuse, and this has got to stop,” she said. “There has to be zero tolerance, and that has to be supported by a separate judicial process, whether it’s a full court-martial process or anything else, apart from the military command structure.”

Several lawmakers met with top White House officials on May 9 to discuss military sexual assault.

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