Rand Paul, Ted Cruz back Gillibrand military sexual assault bill

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) speaks while flanked by

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) speaks while flanked by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). (July 16, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON -- Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas said Tuesday that they will support Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's bid to restructure the military justice system to address sexual assault among service members.

The addition of the two conservative senators broadens the political and ideological range of the Senate coalition fighting an uphill battle to shift the responsibility for trying sexual assault cases from commanders to military prosecutors.

"So this is not a Democratic idea. It is not a Republican idea," Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said at a Capitol Hill news conference. "It is a good idea that meets the needs of the victims, creates transparency and accountability, and creates the needed objectivity that this issue deserves."

Gillibrand plans to offer the restructuring as an amendment to the defense authorization bill on the Senate floor, either later this month or in the fall. The Senate Armed Services Committee rejected the legislation in a 17-9 vote last month.

Her measure, which has 33 co-sponsors, would shift the authority commanders now have to military prosecutors to decide how to try rape, sexual assault, murder and a list of other serious crimes.

"I see no reason why conservatives shouldn't support this," Paul (R-Ky.) said. "Justice is very important for me, both for the accused and the victim."

He said he signed on after Gillibrand agreed to make changes in the measure by leaving some offenses she had included in her measure in the commanders' control. "These were disobeying orders and some other things," he said.

Cruz (R-Texas), who voted for Gillibrand's amendment in committee, said he was persuaded by two points. Sexual assault victims don't report the attacks because they are afraid to come forward, he said. Also, reporting of those crimes rose in Great Britain, Israel and Germany after those countries instituted policies similar to Gillibrand's measure.

The measure is opposed by all top-ranking military officials along with Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Levin said earlier Tuesday that the defense authorization bill already includes major changes to address military sexual assault, including referring cases to the top of the chain of command and providing victims with special counsel.

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