Editorial: Support indicates goodness

Mar. 11, 2014 @ 11:15 PM

Given the current political landscape, bills with a mixture of support are fortunate and very rare. They invariably are an indicator of goodness.

We’re not convinced Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s proposal is the way to go for our military. But we do believe she’s on to something that, if lawmakers will work at it, can lead to an optimum outcome.

Authority to prosecute rapes and other serious crimes in the military, for now, remains with commanders. Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, pushed for seasoned military trial lawyers independent of the chain of command to decide on taking serious crimes to courts-martial.

Inside the Beltway, and even on Jones Street in the land of the long leaf pine, partisan politics rules. The middle is hollowed, the far fringes heavily filled.

Gillibrand’s bill was favored 55-45 but was five votes short of filibuster proof. North Carolina’s representation split — Sen. Kay Hagan voted for it, Sen. Richard Burr against.

Seventeen of 20 female senators were for the bill. Eleven Republicans were for it, including GOP leader Mitch McConnell and a pair of presidential candidate possibilities in 2016, conservative Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Opponents of the bill said the country would be jeopardized. Proponents say troops are in jeopardy.

Democratic Sen. John Walsh of Montana is the first Iraq War veteran in the Senate. He said the current system fails men and women in uniform. Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, a West Point graduate who served in the 82nd Airborne Division aboard Fort Bragg, said stripping commanders of authority to discipline troops would be “detrimental to the effectiveness” of the forces.

Points are valid on both sides. And despite the closeness — just five votes — compromise is not a given. Gillibrand said the fight will continue.

This much is certain: Even the military calls sexual assaults an epidemic. One estimate puts the number of victims at 26,000, mostly women, and recognizes thousands may not be included in the count.

Gillibrand is right; asserting our military justice system must be free from bias and conflict of interest. How we get there without damaging command of the troops is the challenge.

The zero tolerance policy sounds good. But the troops have to trust it — and their commanders.