All In   |  June 04, 2013

Military brass rejects outside accountability on sexual assaults

Today the women of the Senate Armed Services Committee grilled military leaders about sexual assault in the military. Chris Hayes talks about the hearing with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Anu Bhagwati, and Goldie Taylor.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening. i'm chris hayes . and thank you for joining us. tonight, in case any liberals were starting to fall for the lovable, huggable chris christie routine, his latest move should be enough to convince you how cravenly self-serving he really is.

>>> plus, the war on weed is proving very one-sided as in one side is getting way more screwed than the other. and we have the proof. and the latest assault on obama care is coming from an old playbook, one written by the slave power . i'm not making that up. we start today with a photo. this is a photo of some of the people in charge of grilling a collection of top-tier generals from the united states military today. if you've been a general, called to testify today before the senate armed services committee , this is what you'd be looking up at. this committee. you'll notice it's quite a bit different than this one. which is actually the same committee 30 years ago. and the big difference, of course, is women . 1983 , there were zero women on the senate armed services committee , zero. today there are seven. and while that is still not exactly the picture of gender parity, these women makes a real tangible difference in not just how the policy is shaped, but even in what is possible, what is up for discussion. and today we got to see what that looks like in real life , in realtime in a fascinating dramatic hearing. this is an effect going from a panel made up of 0% women to a panel made up of 27% women .

>> we need to know how many women and men are being raped and sexually assaulted on an annual basis. and we have no idea right now.

>> many of you indicated that no commanders have ever been removed for setting an inappropriate environment with regard to sexual assault .

>> are you frickin kidding me?

>> not every single commander necessarily wants women in the force, not every single commander believes what a sexual assault is. not every single commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and a rape.

>> there's a group of people that are not coming forward because they fear how they are going to be treated in this system.

>> i completely disagree with you, general harding. there is not -- it is not relevant as to whether or not somebody raped a woman how good a pilot he was.

>> you have lost the trust of the men and women who rely on you. that you will actually bring justice in these cases.

>> today, the senate armed services committee including seven women tackled the epidemic level problem of sexual assault inside the u.s. military . it's something we've talked about on this show before. according to the pentagon's own estimates, sexual assault was up more than 35% last year from the year before. here's what's more disturbing about those numbers. of an estimated 26,000 people who experience unwanted sexual contact in the military, only about 3,000 were actually reported. and of those, only 238, 238 resulted in convictions. so that's 238 convictions out of an estimated 26,000 estimated cases. those numbers obviously are a huge problem. and part of that huge problem is this. right now, the reporting and prosecuting of those 26,000 cases is done inside the military chain of command . senior officers with no legal training, not the police, your boss essentially gets to decide whether court martial charges should be brought against the person that sexually assaulted you and the commanding officer gets to pick the jury pool and can even throw out a guilty finding after a verdict is rendered. which explains only 3,000 out of 26,000 are reported. which brings us back to the senate armed services committee and its seven women . one of them, senator kirsten gillibrand of new york issued a bill to take reporting out of the chain of command and put it into the hands of independent investigators who would make the decision about whether the case should go to trial. today, senator gillibrand as a member of the senate armed services committee got to grill the top military brass on this very issue. and here is what that side of the room looked like. when you gather together the top military brass, you are gathering together a table almost entirely full of men. and here's what that looks like. you saw the effect of having women on the committee asking the questions. well, here's the effect of having almost no women on the witness panel. spoiler alert , they think commanding officers can handle this whole sexual assault thing just fine, thank you very much.

>> our commanding officers are the center piece of the marine corps 's effectiveness and professional and disciplined war fighting organization.

>> they punish criminals and they protect victims when and where no other jurisdiction is capable of doing so.

>> it is essential that our commanders be involved in each phase of the military justice process.

>> making commanders less responsible and less accountable will not work.

>> they must be part of the solution or there will be no solution. that's the way our systems operate.

>> the role of the commander should be remain central.

>> commanding officers never delegate responsibility, they should never be forced to delegate their authority.

>> i spent a lot of time reporting on institutional failure, the topic. in fact, i wrote an entire book about institutional failure. i spent a lot of time talking to people and reporting on the sexual abuse scandal in the catholic church , which is an institution i'm pretty familiar with. i was raised in the catholic faith . my father was a seminarian. what everyone i spoke to recognized is what made that system broken was the reporting of sexual abuse happened through the church's very own version of the chain of command . when a priest started to wonder about why a fellow priest was spending so much time with that young boy , he would not call the cops, he would tell his boss. and his boss is the bishop and the bishop decided how to handle it. and thousands of broken lives and tens of millions of dollars later, we know this does not work. it doesn't work in the catholic church , doesn't work in higher education . it doesn't work in the office and surely does not work in the united states military . if there is one thing that i learned from covering the catholic church , it's that no matter how grisly the details are. no matter how widespread the criminal behavior is, the people operating at the highest levels of that institution of any institution will do almost anything to prevent the possibility of being held accountable to somebody outside that institution. and that right now is the fight happening between the women of the senate and u.s. armed services committee and the u.s. military . and it is a hell of a fight. joining me now is senator kirsten gillibrand of new york . senator, my first question for you is after a very long extensive and thorough hearing today, did you hear what you wanted to hear out of the witnesses?

>> no, i was quite disappointed that the military really failed to take this opportunity to lead. obviously they are too comfortable with the status quo . and we really need significant reform if we are going to address this plague. it's a huge problem within our military. the men and women risking everything to serve this country do not have faith in the chain of command . they do not believe they will have justice being done in these kinds of cases.

>> it was surprising to me, i have to say, and i did not watch all eight hours today. but i watched a bit. it was surprising to me how unwilling to change it seemed to me the witnesses were. i was expecting to get a little more from them in terms of, yes, we should pursue x, y and z reforms. were you surprised with what you heard today?

>> i was surprised. i assumed there would be a certain degree of pushback with regard to changing the decision making and making it outside the chain of command . but responses we got from other reforms like having victim advocates or making sure that the character of the accused is not considered before you go to trial. there was reluctance on those principles, as well. i was also disturbed there wasn't a thorough review of jurisdictions that have made this change. the fact that the service chiefs did not look at israel and the uk and other countries that have done this. they've actually said serious crimes should be taken outside the chain of command so there can be an objectivity. so there can be accountability. they've made this decision already. and in some instances to great results. we heard from israel that they have had 80% increase in reporting over the last five years because they've taken the time to do some very high-profile prosecutions.

>> senator, i want to play a little bit of sound from a colleague of yours. senator saxby chambliss today and a comment he made during the hearing. take a listen.

>> the young folks that are coming in to each of your services are anywhere from 17 to 22 or 23. gee wiz, the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur.

>> how common is that attitude in your body, the united states senate , in the armed forces in general?

>> well, what we've heard from previous testimony is it does seem to be a disconnect between what this crime is and how it's perceived. rape and sexual assault are crimes of violence, crimes of dominance. more than half of the victims are men. these are not crimes of lust, they're not crimes of romance, not dates that have gone badly. they're not issues of the hook-up culture from high school or hormones as my colleague says. we're talking about predators, often serial predators who are targeting their victims in advance, making them vulnerable through alcohol or other means and actually stalking them. and they repeat these crimes over and over again. what we're trying to do is root out this criminal element because men and women serving in our military should not be subject to attacks by their colleagues.

>> here's my question for you on the politics of this. increasingly, it's looking like the conflict here are members of the senate and the military. are the politics going to get tricky for you. in so far as, do you worry as being seen as essentially going up against the military writ large?

>> you know, when you have a challenge like this, you do have to change the status quo . and we saw the same thing when we were trying to repeal don't ask, don't tell. there was very little support from the military when we were urging them to repeal this very corrosive discriminatory policy that was undermining our military readiness. similarly, the amount of sexual assault and rape in the military today and the lack of accountability, the lack of transparency and the lack of objectivity in the chain of command is really undermining our military readiness. it's hurting morale, it's hurting cohesion, and it's hurting discipline and order. and so if you really want to focus on how we strengthen our military, you have to rule out the scourge. and that means real reform. i think the military, it's difficult to change the status quo , not something they do readily, but we have to make the case that this reform is going to create the transparency and accountability that it takes to have justice be done and see more reporting, more cases going to trial, and more victims knowing that they can get justice within the system.

>> senator kirsten gillibrand of new york , thank you for your time.

>> thank you.

>>> joining me now, executive director of co-founder of the servicewomen's action network, and you were there today, and the senator, you just heard the senator say she was surprised by the stance of the military brass. were you surprised by what you heard today?

>> no, i was very disappointed, though. and that visual image of all of those older white men with one female admiral is quite stunning. it's the physical embodiment of everything that causes the status quo to stay in place. and, you know, we really tried in our testimony to bring out the fact that this can't change overnight unless there are more women achieving the highest ranks of leadership, both on the enlisted and officer side. without women at the top, we are not going to see a change. the only reason we're seeing a change is because there's so many women serving right now on both sides of the aisle. and they care.

>> and what's fascinating, i think, this is revealing as we go through this. she's revealing a little bit about some issues institutionally about women in the force. and i thought this comment from john mccain today was really kind of eye opening and shocking. this is what john mccain had to say today during the hearing.

>> just last night, a woman came to me and said her brother -- her daughter wanted to join in the military and could i give my unqualified support for her doing so. i could not.

>> what do you make of that?

>> you know, i actually made similar comments to one of our colleagues a couple of weeks ago. i have daughters who are, you know, 21 and 23 years old, and if they came to me today and said they were going to join the marine corps just as i did when i was a bit younger than they. i don't know that today's service environment is an appropriate one for my daughters that i would want them to put themselves at risk when the risk really is not -- is more the brethren they're serving beside rather than, you know, the enemy. at the end of the day , a lot of this is because women were not previously allowed to serve in combat roles and so they were a bit, you know, considered a second class citizens. and because they weren't in combat roles, they didn't have access to some of the highest ranks, you know, the highest duties of jobs that just weren't available to them. and so they aren't today in a position to make some decisions around solving military sexual assault . i think that's the grand irony of this.

>> that is a great point. anu, i want to play another moment which i think lindsay graham is the only senator on record saying he is with the brass on this. he doesn't want to take it outside the chain of command . there are folks like senator gillibrand and others who do want to. and this is senator graham kind of in some ways chastising the witnesses that they're not being more stalwart in their chain of command .

>> the ability to set aside a finding or specification to reduce a sentence, you all agree that should be taken away from commanders in most cases. to me, that's internally inconsistent with your message to us. 2:00 in terms of the power of the commander.

>> are there going to be more people that join his ranks? i think that's an interesting political question going forward.

>> i think senator graham plays a very unique role in this conversation as a j.a.g., as a colonel who is still serving in the air force . i mean, a lot of people give him a little too much, i think, leeway, a little too much authority in this conversation. at the end of the day , victims are constantly left out of the conversation. we didn't have a single survivor of sexual assault in the military speaking to the senate today. and that's a real problem. and we have the joint chiefs of staff , but they are 40 years removed from the junior enlisted service members who make up the bulk of survivors today. there's no relationship between the senior brass and the service members whom they're supposed to support and be protecting.

>> goldie, quickly here, you've got a lot of women working on this, it's an institutional fight right now between congress and the top brass. as it stands now, do you think it will stay that way? are we going to see this rotate into a more partisan issue?

>> i think it's going to be very difficult to see this rotate into a partisan issue, but that's not to say it won't happen. they've begun to hear some voices out of the grass roots today, pointed the finger at president obama and all those liberals out there. you know, who are targeting military brass while they should be attacking this problem globally. there are some unfortunate voices beginning to emerge. you know, my hope is that we're going to stay on this, you know, in a real way and address the issue as it is as a tragedy in our military.

>> thank you both so much.

>> thank you.

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