Hagel: Let commanders deal with sexual assault

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says commanders must remain part of the legal process in dealing with major offenses in the military such as sexual assault.

Hagel spoke to a Senate panel on Wednesday as Congress weighs legislation to deal with the epidemic of sexual assaults. His words were a tacit endorsement for Sen. Carl Levin's proposal and undercuts Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's effort.

Gillibrand's legislation would remove commanders from the process of deciding whether serious crimes, including sexual misconduct cases, go to trial. That judgment would rest instead with seasoned trial lawyers with prosecutorial experience.

But Levin and other lawmakers, echoing fears voiced by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believe that cutting commanders out of the legal process would undermine their ability to enforce good order and discipline within the ranks.