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Sen. Leahy warns military on sex assault; eyes civilian prosecutors

WASHINGTON — Legislators weary of the military’s inability to rein in the problem of sexual assault are mulling a radical change in the way justice is delivered in the military, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Tuesday.

Speaking during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee for defense matters, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey that some on the Judiciary Committee have discussed putting civilian state prosecutors in charge of sexual assault cases that originate on U.S. military installations.

Currently, crimes that take place on military bases are the province of the military justice system, and prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

If such a measure were introduced, it would be sure to meet strong opposition from top Pentagon leaders, who have lined up in opposition to pending legislation that would remove prosecutions for serious crimes from the chains of command in which they are alleged to have occurred. Those measures would leave the prosecutions within the military justice system, however.

Leahy said that if DOD doesn’t make significant changes to control an apparent epidemic of sexual assault assault, which DOD’s statistics indicate has grown in recent years, Congress will step in.

“I throw that out as a warning to the military chain of command that to do things as they’ve always been done is not acceptable,” Leahy said.

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