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Sex-assault prosecutors for military challenged

WASHINGTON -- The head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who opposes efforts to remove military commanders' authority over sexual-assault prosecutions, said there's no evidence victims are more likely to report attacks in foreign militaries that use independent prosecutors.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) released two letters yesterday from U.S. military officials that he said contradict the central premise of those seeking independent military prosecutions: that such a move would encourage victims to report sexual assaults.

"I doubt very much we're going to hear that argument again," Levin said in a conference call with reporters.

Army Brig. Gen. Richard Gross, legal counsel to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a letter to Levin a survey he conducted of military justice systems in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Germany found no correlation between the use of independent prosecutors and the rates of reporting and prosecution of sexual assaults.

A second letter, from Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, documented 93 sexual-assault cases over the past two years that military commanders pursued and local civilian authorities didn't.

A reported surge in reports of sexual assaults in the military has been called "shameful and disgraceful" by President Barack Obama.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a sponsor of the legislation, said many victims are afraid to report assaults to their commanding officers, who may know the alleged attacker. Levin's committee rejected Gillibrand's proposal in June on a 17-9 vote. It passed a measure requiring a higher-level military review. -- Bloomberg News

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