Lawmakers are attempting to deal with the apparent epidemic of sexual assault in the military, and some of the proposals currently wending their way through Congress would see commanders stripped of some authority. But at a Senate hearing on the matter today, though military leaders agreed that sexual assault within the ranks is "like a cancer" and could destroy the force, they rejected such a drastic move, the AP reports. The Armed Services Committee is considering seven bills to deal with the problem, and today's hearing included testimony from the heads of each branch of the military, Pentagon lawyers, and Martin Dempsey, Army general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The bill that goes the farthest, proposed by Kirsten Gillibrand, would remove commanders from the process of convening a court-martial on sexual misconduct cases, instead giving that authority to someone outside the victim's chain of command. But the military leaders said today that commanders must keep that authority, or their ability to effectively lead their units could be undermined. The four-star chiefs do, however, support Chuck Hagel's recommendation, which would strip commanding officers of the power to toss out a verdict. Dempsey also said he supports other proposals, including those that would keep people convicted of sexual assault out of the military or require commanders to report all sexual assault claims up the chain of command, CNN reports. (Read more sexual assault stories.)