The House Armed Services Committee last week approved provisions in the defense bill that included stripping military commanders of the power to overturn convictions in rape and sexual assault cases. The panel also voted to require that anyone found guilty of a sex-related crime receive a punishment that includes, at a minimum, a dismissal from military service or a dishonorable discharge.
Officers, commissioned warrant officers, cadets and midshipmen convicted of rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy or attempts to commit those offenses would be dismissed under a mandatory minimum sentence. Enlisted personnel and noncommissioned warrant officers convicted of similar crimes would be dishonorably discharged.
Turner and other lawmakers argued on Thursday that they needed to add a minimum sentence to that punishment. Yet several Democratic women opposed the step, arguing that while confinement was appropriate, Congress should wait for a Defense Department report on sentencing guidelines.
Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., who worked with Turner in crafting several of the provisions, broke with her colleague on the amendment, saying it was premature until the Pentagon report.
The Pentagon estimated recently that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year, up from an estimated 19,000 assaults in 2011, based on an anonymous survey of military personnel. While the number of sexual assaults that members of the military actually reported rose 6 percent to 3,374 in 2012, thousands of victims were still unwilling to come forward despite new oversight and assistance programs aimed at curbing the crimes, the report said.
The House defense bill would provide the military with $638 billion for 2014, including $86 billion for the war in Afghanistan. The Obama administration has threatened a veto of the legislation, objecting to provisions that would limit the president's authority in handling terror suspects at the military-run detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and implementing a nuclear reduction treaty.