The new legislation would change the military rules of evidence to prohibit the accused from using good military character as an element of his defense in court-martial proceedings unless it was directly relevant to the alleged crime. The "good soldier defense" could encompass a defendant's military record of reliability, dependability, professionalism and reputation as an individual who could be counted on in war and peacetime.
McCaskill described it as "the ridiculous notion that how well one flies a plane should have anything to do with whether they committed a crime."
The chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Monday that the "military culture has been slow to grasp the painful truth that even a successful professional can also be a sexual predator."
Under the bill, the defense could still be used in the sentencing phase. The Pentagon has indicated that it is crucial as commanders adjust sentences to allow for plea agreements.
The measure also would give accusers a greater say in whether their cases are litigated in the military system or civilian and would establish a confidential process to allow alleged victims to challenge their separation or discharge from the military. In addition, it would increase the accountability of commanders and extend all changes related to sexual assault cases to the service academies.
In cases where a prosecutor wanted to move ahead with a case but a commander disagreed, the civilian service secretary would be the final arbiter.
The Pentagon has reservations about that last provision, suggesting it could have a chilling effect on majors and captains if they think every decision gets kicked up to the service secretary.
Meanwhile on Monday, at Fort Bragg, N.C., Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair was on trial on sexual assault charges. In his court-martial, which began last week, the 51-year-old former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division is accused of twice forcing a female captain to perform oral sex in Afghanistan in 2011 during a three-year extramarital affair. He has admitted to the affair but denied assaulting the woman.