SO-called privileges of rank have taken on a perverse meaning in the U.S. military. Stunning tales of sexual assault at the highest levels of the service betray the grievous breadth of the abuse.
The U.S. Senate last week unanimously adopted changes in the military-justice system to protect victims when they step forward to report the crimes, and how those investigations and prosecutions are handled.
New avenues of appeal were created in instances where military commanders refuse to proceed with sexual-assault charges. Earlier, the Senate failed to agree on legislation to strip commanders of that discretion.
Indignation over that legislative outcome may well have empowered last week’s victory. This latest effort builds on changes made in 2013 that require civilian review of decisions not to prosecute, eliminate a statute of limitations for court-martial in rape and assault cases, and criminalize retaliation for filing reports of assault.
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The military has a crushing public-relations problem on its hands that could haunt recruitment and retention of personnel.
Failure to protect men and women who have volunteered to defend their country is shameful. The willingness of the system to protect its own is disgraceful, if grimly predictable.
Erosion of respect for rank has consequences for unit cohesiveness and the basic willingness to work together, and, indeed, follow orders.
Right now the public — and Congress — is watching all manner of vulgar examples play out. A brigadier general negotiated a plea deal in a trial at Fort Bragg, N.C. Meanwhile, the Army is investigating sexual-abuse allegations against an officer who trains military prosecutors to handle sexual-abuse cases.
Imagine what it is like for young enlisted personnel and junior officers with virtually no one to turn to for help. The Associated Press reports the Pentagon estimates 26,000 military members may have been assaulted in 2012.
Elemental changes in attitudes and workplace conditions are needed to make the regulations approved by the Senate have full meaning. Part of that change is a willingness to hold all violators accountable.
What the public sees now is the privileges of rank come with some vulgar assumptions about what can be done without accountability or penalty.
All of the Senate’s changes and expectations would apply to the service academies, where future generations of leaders are trained.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).