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Senate expected to approve sweeping defense bill

WASHINGTON — A comprehensive defense bill that would crack down on sexual assault in the military and add protections for victims headed toward Senate passage Thursday.

The White House expressed support for the legislation, which would provide $552.1 billion for the regular military budget and $80.7 billion for the war in Afghanistan and other overseas operations, a reflection of deficit-driven efforts to trim spending and the drawdown in a conflict lasting more than a decade.

The bill would give President Barack Obama additional flexibility in deciding the fate of terror suspects at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but it stops well short of the administration's goal of closing the installation.

"Although the bill includes a number of provisions that restrict or limit the Defense Department's ability to align military capabilities and force structure with the president's strategy and implement certain efficiencies, overall the administration is pleased with the modifications and improvements" that address its objections to earlier versions, the White House said in a statement.

The House overwhelmingly passed the bill last week on a strong bipartisan vote. Senate passage was expected Thursday night.

The legislation would:

• Authorize a 1 percent pay raise for military personnel and cover combat pay and other benefits.

• Strip military commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions, require a civilian review if a commander declines to prosecute a case and require that any individual convicted of sexual assault face a dishonorable discharge or dismissal. The bill also would provide victims with legal counsel, eliminate the statute of limitations for courts-martial in rape and sexual assault cases, and criminalize retaliation against victims who report a sexual assault.

Senate expected to approve sweeping defense bill 12/19/13 [Last modified: Thursday, December 19, 2013 10:52pm]
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