tv Inside Story Al Jazeera November 20, 2013 5:00pm-5:31pm EST
>> this is al jazeera america with tony harris. leaders arrived in geneva trying to broke arrest deal with iran over its nuclear program. iran's supreme leader said that his country would not step back one iota from nuclear rights. there may not be a deal in iran, but the u.s. and afghanistan have reached a deal to keep american troops in the country after 2014. secretary of state john kerry saying whether or not iran could continue to enrich uranium would not be resolved, and he noted afghanistan's presiden--in wall,
taking the fuel out of a potential market rally. the dow falling 66 points. those minutes showing that if the economy improved the stimulus should be pulled back soon. president obama laid a wreath at pratt john fpresident john f. ks grave in arlington cemetery in virginia. those are the headlines. >> sexual assault in the military is a long-standing and growing problem, and the senate is now debating whether to take the issue out of the chain of command. i'm ray suarez, and this is the "inside story."
>> it's a terrible problem in search of a better solution for victims. the number of reported sex yum assaults in the military jumped 50% in the last year. and the pentagon estimates the real number is much, much higher. the president has ordered the military to solve the problem, but it's not that easy. now the senate as it debates the new defense bill is considering an amendment that would take the divisiodecision to convict sexul assaults out of the military command. first, this background. >> reporter: the senate is
determined to end the plague of sexual assault within the military. there is no disagreement that as many as 26,000 incidents last year according to a blind survey of military personnel conducted by the pentagon. it's an unacceptbly high number, but different proposed solutions now divide democrats. new york's kirsten gillibrand. >> if you do not create a system outside of the chain of command your hope to report so we can weigh the evidence to see whether we can go to trial, it's not there. the hope isn't there. the confidence in an objective review of someone who doesn't know the perpetrator, doesn't know the victim doesn't exist. >> reporter: gillibrand seeks to remove the chain of command. >> you can't train your way out of this problem.
there are 23,000 command climates that were not strong enough, that didn't insure justice, that created fear of retaliation. that's the problem. without creating transparency and accountability, without saying the decider doesn't know the victim or the perpetrator, there is no bias. the senator's bill has the support of many democrats and a significant number of republicans are on board as well in opposition and saying that gillibrand's reforms going too far are a number of key democrats whose votes are critical in this, senator claire mmccaskill of missouri. >> we'll be creating more problems than we're solving if we break the chain of command. >> reporter: she wants to keep the rights in the military but offered her own legislation that would require a civilian review
if a commander declines to prosecute a case and make retaliation against those who issue reports of sexual assault a crime. strip military commanders of their ability to overturn convictions. earlier this year the president urged his top officials to get a handle on the problem. >> every has heard from me directly. they've heard from secretary hagel and marty dempsey, they all understand that this is a priority, and we will not stop until we've seen this scourge from what is the greatest military in the world eliminat eliminated. >> reporter: the president's directive to solve the scourge of sexual assault sets up complicated institutional dilemma. he has argued that it's up to
the military to implement changes and policy. the white house has not publicly weighed in on the amendments being debated now. reports of military sexual assault versus nearly doubled in just a year. the defense department reports 3,553 members of the military issued assault complaints between october 2012 and june of this year. this could be an indication more are willing to speak up because of improvements in the handling of these cases. joining us for our discussion are ariana clay, former marine corp officer who experienced assault. and susan burke who has defended many victims. and from chile, a professor at yale law school who focuses on military justice, and larry abrahamson, npr military
correspondent. larry, let me start with you, the numbers are only getting worse. >> i think there are a number of answers to that. one is many people feel the culture inside the military has not really changed, and there is really a crisis going on that has not hit home until recently. with you we've had major film "the invisible war" which brought you had the tremendous amount of retaliation against people who report sexual assault and come forward. we've had commanders overturn sexual assault verdicts, and it's really brought this to a great deal of public awareness to the subject that wasn't there before. the question is whether or not the pentagon is going along with this trying to make changes willingly or if they're being dragged kicking and screaming. >> do you think the message has gotten out in the ranks that there is a new era afoot, either
on its way or already here? >> i think it has. i've talked to a lot of new soldiers, sailers, airmen, marines. if thing they feel like they get briefed to death against sexual assault, told to treat each other with respect, and language that they think is harmless may be viewed as harassment. but the military does have a hard time distinguishing between actually changing the culture, changing the way people think, and simply training people and telling them this is the way you have to talk. given the fact that the military is a 90% male, there is still a lot of history there that needs to be overcome. i think it could be generations before everyone has adopted this as a mindset in the same way that the civilian leadership wants. >> the president, is he stuck
between his own department of defense and allies and friends in the united states senate on this one? >> well, i think he is to some extent, and you've honed in on the fact that this has come down to one question, and that is whether military commanders should make the final decision whether sexual assault charge should go forward. men and women who have experienced sexual assault feel this is a critical change to make. i president is held back in this debate taking a position for and against this particular proposal. i think a lot of people in the pentagon are disappointed that the debate is focusing on this single issue because they have under taken a great many reforms just in the last year or two that they feel aren't getting enough attention. be that as it may this is the debate going on in the senate. i think the success or failure of this particular measure we're
talking about is going to be used to judge just how serious the united states is about this. >> susan, if a new potential client comes your way, are you convinced that there is a new culture now? havas you head to the next level will claims be dealt with in a more serious way? >> no, unless the senate passes the structural change we have a broken military system. a military system that allows person bias to play role at every level. all of us as americans understand what fair justice looks like. it's blind. you never sit on a jury if you know the defendant or the accused or even if you know the lawyers. that's turned on its head in the military system. instead a biased person who has their own professional issues, their own professional interests
at play serves as ultimate decision maker. not merely whether an assault will be investigated and prosecutedder but also if it will stand. the military has unfettered power and that is leading to a broken judicial system that is bringing culture issues they've got to step up and fix a broken judicial system. >> ariana senator gillibrand was speaking on the senate floor. and she quoted one plaintiff as saying that the current system was like getting raped by your brother and then having your dad decide the case. is that sound familiar to you? >> it does sound familiar, and unfortunately unless this passes i think we're doing our commanders a disservice.
i don't think they should be distracted by having to handle legal matters. and in any organization they're going to want to continue to own their own truth. right now they're above the law. i think to allow commanders to make these decisions is unfair to the victim. it's unfair to the accused, and it's unfair to the commander. i do agree with that statement. i think that it's up to congress right now to make those changes so that victims don't have to continue to experience exactly what you just described. >> eugene, is this a current system that has only become more unworkable as more women have entered the ranks? >> yes, it is, ray, although the issues with the system go far beyond issues relating to women. and there are many men as well in uniform who are victims of sexual assault. the system has important parts that goes way before there were
women in the service. i'm talking about the command centric aspect of the system. the role that the commander plays in the administration of justice. for that we have among others george iii the king to thank. he was monarch at the time, and we borrowed his system and we kept this important part of this system all the way threw despite the many, many quite important changes that have happen inned the 50's, '63, '68, and so forth. i think its time to let go of this vestige in the system. >> we're going to go to a short break and this is "inside story."
>> evey weeknight on al jazeera america change the way you look at news tune into live news at 8 and 11 >> i'm john seigenthaler and here's a look at the headlines.. >> infomation changes by the hour here... >> our team of award winning journalists brings you up to the minute coverage of today's events... then, at 9 and midnight. america tonight goes deeper with groundbreaking investigative coverage of the nation's top stories... >> a fresh take on the stories that connect to you... >> live news at 8 and 11 eastern followed by america tonight on al jazeera america there's more to it. >> welcome back. i'm ray suarez. we're talking about sexual assaults in the military and the search for better judicial solutionsolutions in assault caw susan burke, as you're well
aware, there is a rival bill on the floor the senate that seeks to fine tune the system as it exists now, but keep these decisions largely within the chain of command, that is had a have people's own superiors deciding whether the case progresses. can this be fine tuned, fixed, adjusted and stamped? >> no, the reality is a little tinkering around the edges is not going to be meaningful. if you look at the house armed services vote it did not break down online but tenure. the people who had the longest relationship with the military brass, senator mccaskill, the chair, they voted for this less-than bill, and they're trying off a fundamental and serio reform by merely by a lesser set of measures.
now, many of those measures are helpful and they're important, but if you don't fix your main problem, then you're putting a lot of energy and resources into something that is structurally flawed. >> gene, you've been and around this system for much of your adult life, and senator claire mccaskill of missouri says if you look at the evidence there is just not enough evidence to conclude that what is broken about the system is the involvement of a person's own supervisors, that that there is a problem, but that's not where it is. >> well, respect i have to disagree with senator mccaskill. she was very nice to me, invited me to visit with her. i met with her early in the process, i had quite a cordial meeting, but what i never understood about the position that she and other senators have espoused is why they as former
prosecutors don't believe that the prosecution decision, the decision of who should be tried by court-martial, shouldn't be made by lawyers. in our society prosecutorial decisions are made by attorneys who have to go through three years of law school, and they've taken the bar, and this is what you want for the official who makes a decision to take a case into court. i don't understand why any form of prosecutor wouldn't be strongly in favor of senator gillibrand's position. there are other prosecutors as well in the nat. in the senate, former prosecutors, and i hope they would agree. we'll see how it unfolds. there are those whose good faith is
beyond question. they're just trying to do the right thing, too, but they have an opportunity to take charge of this process and come up with constructive changes and embrace the idea of systemic reform, which applies not just to sex offenses but across the board to the whole range of the offenses that can bees were cuted and court-martial, i'm talking about things like murder. i don't understand why the military doesn't seize the opportunity, grab hold of the issues, and make this their community foopportunity to movem into the 21st century. i italy there is a polarity with the way the government has approached this so far. >> the lion's share of this attention has been painted in the chain of command out of it. with so few americans now serving in the military, it's good to take us inside that world a little bit, and explain what's different about life
inside that world. ifou know, you have to bring an accusation of a crime like this to your own superior. is there pressure not to say anything? it's being presume there had are many more attacks than we ever hear about. >> there is absolutely an issue with that because by reporting your commander has to have bias. he's going have favorites. that's the problem with senator mccaskill's proposal. the commanders are not super menuhuman, they're not unbiased. whether it's towards th one or e other, if it protects the redder predators it silences the prey.
until we take it out of the chain of command and take it out of the commander's jurisdiction we'll continue to have this problem. >> we hear a lot in debates about good order and discipline. are there some commanders for whom silence and everybody just moving ahead is a better description of good order than somebody actually being punished and tried? >> that's an absolutely a great point. also to comment on something that you said earlier, this impression of this mystical warrior military is something--it's an obstruction to justice right now in the military. i think some of our members of congress are blinded by the brass, and they're actually doing our commanders a disservice. i think that that's absolutely going on. they would rather crush the problem, which they see as the accusation, and move along.
>> welcome back to "inside story." i'm ray suarez. we're continuing our conversation on sexual assaults in the military and the effort to bring that number down. larry abrahamson, you know, ariana talked about the mystical warrior just before the break, and we do give a lot of deference to the military as a distinct culture within society, and this came up a lot during the debate over openly serving as homosexual in the military.
there is sometimes you hear why don't they just salute, say yes, no, sir, no ma'am, yes, ma'am, and do what they're told. why is it so hard to ratchet this down? >> you alluded to the fact that this is an unique segment to our society. i think a lot of americans, most americans don't go into the military. they don't understand why there is a separate system of justice, why there are separate laws for soldiers, sailors and airmen, but i think the military feels that that separate system of justice has been crucial to their war fighting capability, that they have responsibilities that go well beyond simply meeting out criminal justice. i think that some of the commanders i've spoken to have said, you can't turn to me and say i need to change the
culture, i need to change the way my men and women think and then at the same time take away my power to decide if these cases go forward. on the other hand, i think something that the commanders seem to forget that the gillibrand proposal on the senate floor today would actually keep within the chain of command administrative offenses, dereliction of duties, things that are necessary for good discipline and order, and would only take the serious crimes sexual assault, murder, and send that to the legal department. >> ththethe mccaskill bill said there is a second layer of appeal and then it would go to another board. why is that not enough protection? >> what you need to do is set up a judicial system that is viewed and operates on a fair and
impartial manner. you can't have the commanders play any role whatsoever. rather, we need trained professionals, we need lawyers who are able to weigh the evidence, determine whether they have a sufficient amount to obtain an oh conviction of a crime, and then prosecute those cases. what we're doing now is we're putting this power in the hands of lay people who don't know what quantum of evidence is needed to obtain a conviction. these commanders who say they will not perform their job of changing the culture merely because they don't also manage to hold on this unfettered judicial power is frankly offensive, and i think most commanders would not say that. they know that it is their job, and it is the law to ensure that there is not a hostile and misogynic environment. this requires a comman commander's leadership. it's not a question of
leadership. it's a question of judicial processes. you need impartial fair judicial processes. >> if either of these versions come true after the vote today, will they require big changes inside the military justice system? is this going to be a rough transitioner is something that can be accomplished fairly briskly. >> there will be some effort involved. any time congress has changed essential parts of the system it has taken a while to break in. the president, for example, would have to change the manual for court-martials in a number of respects, but ray, the government is totally capable of doing this. it will probably take some months. it would be a delayed effective date. we know this. but that's no reason not to go ahead with reform. if congress is persuaded reform is necessary. one point that i think is worth
remembering is we're not alone in addressing the need for reform in military justice, and a lot of democratic parties with which we share important values and i'm talking about the united kingdom, canada, australia, new zealand, ireland, south africa, even israel, have long since moved to a system where the prosecution system is made by attorneys rather than commanders. in that sense we're not breaking new ground, in fact, we're catching up to other countries that are very much like us in terms of values. >> thank you to my guests. good to see you all. this brings the end of this edition of "inside story." until next time. i'm ray suarez.