As Congress holds hearings on military handling of criminal trials, proposal would take cases out of chain of command

Investigation

FORT HOOD, Texas (NewsNation Now) — Nearly a year after the gruesome death of Vanessa Guillen and after an independent review revealed widespread failures in investigations at Fort Hood, congressional hearings this week are focusing on problems with criminal investigations in the military at large.

“The Fort Hood Independent Review Committee’s report is a stinging repudiation of the Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID),” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who has been focused on these issues for over a decade.  

The Armed Services Committee heard testimony from the members of the Fort Hood committee about their findings and recommendations Tuesday.

The independent review committee found the Fort Hood CID was treated like a training ground for young, inexperienced agents. Members also identified issues related to inexperience, resources, staffing methods, and the overall CID business model.

“Agents were checklist driven, focused on developing a case file that simply checked the boxes rather than identifying and working leads and suspects that are most likely to resolve cases,” committee member Chris Swecker said.

“There were simply too few, few journeyman level agents to work the complex crimes cases, death cases, while still mentoring the large number of inexperienced and uncredentialed special agents who were constantly transferring in and out there was minimal continuity and institutional knowledge within CID,” Swecker said.

Representatives from the military presented their positions as well, becoming contentious at times. Among programs they’ve proposed so far is creating a mentorship program for female soldiers and a new sexual assault program.

“I would say that it’s a good step… but I continue to hear the military spokespeople say the same thing, that they now know there’s a problem and they’re going to do better,” said U.S. Army sexual assault victims advocate Amy Franck.

While Franck said the hearings are informative, given the number of sexual assaults, suicides and murders, it’s time to take investigations out of the CID and the chain of command. 

Taking prosecutions out of the hands of the military is something Congresswoman Speier has been fighting for as well, through measures including the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act.

Speier said the measure works to ensure there is no retaliation for reports, victims are represented by counsel and compensated for any injury, and those who are in authority are held accountable.

For Speier, the core of the issue is sexual assaults in the military are not handled like crimes. 

“They’re handled as if it has something to do with discipline within the military and therefore should be subject to the chain of command,” Speier said. “Except that their crimes… have now grown to be murders in many cases or murder-suicides.”

Speier said it should be up to professional prosecutors to decide whether a case should move forward instead of military brass.

“What happens is you have a conflicted chain of command because oftentimes the chain of command is the perpetrator, or is a friend of the perpetrator, or the chain of command is concerned about promotions,” Speier said.

Congresswoman Speier said between the hearings and the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act she introduced, she is hopeful there will be change coming.

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