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What The Hell Is Wrong With Carl Levin?

June 13, 2013

Sooo angry with you, Carl!There has been a tremendous amount of attention lately to the epidemic of sexual assault in our nation’s military. (Rightfully and finally!) The Senate is even trying to do something about it. Or at least some of them are. For instance, Sen. Kirsten Gilibrand  “offered a measure that would give military prosecutors rather than commanders the power to decide which sexual assault crimes to try, with the goal of increasing the number of people who report crimes without fear of retaliation.” A more progressive approach would have both military and civilian oversight, but even Gilibrand’s moderate measure was too much for Sen. Carl Levin.

Mr. Levin, Democrat of Michigan, said he would replace Ms. Gillibrand’s measure — which has 27 co-sponsors, including four Republicans — with one that would require a senior military officer to review decisions by commanders who decline to prosecute sexual assault cases. Although Mr. Levin’s measure would change the current system, it would keep prosecution of sexual assault cases within the chain of command, as the military wants. [NYT]

Ah, well, if it’s what the military wants… Here’s the thing, though: Tailhook took place over 20 years ago. The military and their system of prosecution within the chain of command has had over 20 years to change the culture and pursue justice. And they’ve failed miserably. So forgive me if I don’t really have any confidence that they can get it right this time. Do we give them another 20 years and check back?

Although the move by Levin is infuriating, it is not at all unexpected. Why, just earlier this month, his committee held a hearing to look into the issue of military sexual assault. Guess how many victims testified before the committee — go ahead, guess! Answer: 0. zero. zilch. zip. nada. Not a single one. To make matters worse, of the people who did testify, the deck was clearly stacked: witnesses opposed to reform outnumbered supporters 18 to 2. The bulk of those witnesses were from the military,  which unsurprisingly is resistant to any checks on or diminishment of their authority.

So, as my headline asks, what the hell is wrong with Carl Levin? The easy answer is that he has strong ties to the armed forces. But it’s deeper than that. Levin is also one of the few Democrats who essentially blocked efforts for filibuster reform. He simply backs the status quo. Unfortunately, in this case backing the status quo shows a gross insensitivity to the realities of our women in uniform. (Not to mention the very bad optics of pitting himself against a bill to pursue justice for rape and reform the culture of sexual violence in the military sponsored by one of the few women in the Senate.)

Levin is not running for reelection, so there’s that. But we can’t wait until there’s a new chair of the Armed Services Committee — the moment to act is now, while the topic is headline news. Maybe, just maybe, Levin can still be persuaded to do the right thing. Who knows? Stranger things have happened. Take a minute and pick up the phone to let Levin know this is unacceptable.  Credo Action even has a handy page with phone numbers and a sample script, find it here. If nothing else, you’ll at least get the vent.

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