Iraq war veteran and former congressman Allen West spoke out Wednesday against an amendment that would create a new independent system of military prosecutors to handle the prosecution of many serious crimes. "I think think this is reprehensible. I think it's a slap in the face to those who have served in the military, those who are currently serving," West told THE WEEKLY STANDARD.
"You're really talking about stripping the command authority of men and women that we have put on the front lines and entrusted to support and defend this great constitution and this great country," West said. "You are basically saying that we don't think you're capable of doing it. And I think to bring in some type of external...legal entity--that breaks down the good order and discipline of the United States military."
The amendment, sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, was voted down in committee earlier this year, but it gained momentum this week as conservative senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky spoke out in favor of it and signed on as cosponsors. West, a Tea Party favorite and member of the House Armed Services Committee during his one term in Congress, said he hopes other conservatives don't follow their lead.
Gillibrand, Cruz, and Paul say that the military justice system discourages servicemembers from reporting sexual assaults committed by senior officers. According to one study cited by advocates of the amendment, one in four servicemembers who experienced "unwanted sexual contact indicated the offender was someone in their military chain of command."
"Our goal would be to remove all decision-making out of the chain of command about whether to prosecute a case and whether to bring a case to the chain of command," Gillibrand said in an interview earlier this year.
What about potential conflicts of interests? "You have inspectors general, you have equal opportunity officers that that can be reported to," West said. "We don't need a bunch of senators trying to grandstand and get some political media points by going after an issue that can be resolved within the military."
It's possible but unlikely that Cruz and Paul can swing enough Republican support to overcome bipartisan opposition and win a floor vote. The amendment failed in committee on a 17-9 vote earlier this year. Democratic opponents included Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee chairman. “There’s an honest disagreement over which version is going to protect sexual assault victims better,” McCaskill told Politico. “I would never do anything that I didn’t think was going to result in more and better prosecutions.”
The measure has divided Democrats and Republicans, but military leaders have maintained united opposition. “Conveyance of a message that commanders cannot be trusted will only serve to undermine good order and discipline,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote to the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year.