WASHINGTON — Bowing to the Pentagon, the Senate agreed after impassioned debate Thursday to leave the authority to prosecute rapes and other serious crimes with military commanders.
The vote was 55-45 in favor of stripping commanders of that authority, but that was short of the 60 necessary to move ahead on the legislation sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. Her bill would have given the decision to take serious crimes to courts-martial to seasoned military trial lawyers, independent of the chain of command.
The debate and vote were the culmination of a nearly yearlong campaign to curb sexual assault in the ranks, led by female senators who have questioned whether the military's mostly male leadership understands differences between relatively minor sexual offenses and serious crimes that deserve swift and decisive justice.
Thursday's rejection is unlikely to be the final word. Gillibrand and her allies vowed to seize the next opportunity to force another vote, probably in the spring when the Senate starts work on a sweeping defense policy bill for the 2015 fiscal year.