What it will take to end sexual assault in the military

By Representatives Niki Tsongas and Mike Turner via The Christian Science Monitor, June 16, 2014 

The epidemic of military sexual assault requires continued pursuit of reform. With that in mind, we recently introduced the FAIR Military Act, which is aimed at eliminating bias in the military justice system and increasing accountability among all levels of the military.

WASHINGTON — A pervasive cultural flaw is plaguing our armed forces.

The Department of Defense’s “Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military” for fiscal year 2013, released last month, revealed a rise in reported sexual assaults. Rather than signal what might have been the early success of recent legislative and military changes signed into law over the past few years, the increase in incidents means these heinous crimes continue to occur at an alarming rate, to both men and women.

As Congress, advocacy, and survivor groups dig further toward the roots of the issue, one thing has become clear: A widespread problem necessitates widespread accountability. 

Accountability in the military must begin at the top and extend across the services, to every rank and position. With that goal in mind, we recently introduced the Furthering Accountability and Individual Rights within the Military Act of 2014 (FAIR Military Act), which was supported by the Service Women’s Action Network and has received bipartisan support from the House Armed Services Committee. The bill, which will be included in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), is aimed at eliminating bias in the military justice system and increasing accountability among all levels of the military. 

Among other things, the FAIR Military Act would limit the use of the “good soldier” defense, which allows a defendant to cite unrelated, subjective factors during trial, such as military record as a defense against sexual assault charges. It would also require commanders and service members to be assessed on their actions related to sexual assault prevention. And it confronts failures in the current system by improving specific elements in the areas of prevention, protection, and prosecution.  

To address the issue of lack of accountability, the bill requires that commanders be assessed in two new areas: first, on their ability to properly handle reports of sexual assault; and second, on their ability to create a climate where a victim can report a crime without fear of retaliation. Also, with the revelation of the prevalence of these crimes at all levels of the military, this bill takes the critical step of extending sexual assault prevention measures from past legislation to the military service academies.

The legislation will encourage more efficient implementation of recently enacted laws by requiring the Defense Department to better inform Congress of its sexual assault prevention policies. In addition, it directs an independent panel to evaluate the process in which a victim’s mental health is admitted as evidence to a trial, and what impact that could have on that victim’s future wellbeing.

It is the next step in an ongoing process to address military sexual assault, which has proven to be a multifaceted challenge that no one piece of legislation can solve. Recent years have seen multiple historic, important, and bipartisan bills authored by a variety of lawmakers – men and women, Republicans and Democrats, representatives and senators – to address military sexual assault. They provide numerous tools aimed at increasing reporting and prosecutions and better supporting survivors.

Some of the most substantial steps forward on this issue were signed into law as part of last year’s NDAA. The law made unprecedented changes to commander authority by removing the ability to overturn a jury verdict. It also mandated a dishonorable discharge for those convicted of sexual assault and ensured that every military victim of sexual assault be given an attorney.

An intense public spotlight is now being shone on the military’s ongoing sexual assault epidemic. This is thanks in large part to several factors: legislative action, combined with in-depth debate in the Senate over proposed alterations to the military’s legal system; an Oscar-nominated documentary, “The Invisible War”; courageous survivors publicly sharing their stories; and the efforts of numerous individuals and advocacy groups.

Accordingly, when alarming outcomes occur – such as the case of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, who pled guilty to an appalling pattern of misconduct but avoided jail time and reduction in rank – we, and many others, are taking our concerns straight to the Pentagon’s top leadership to ensure they know that such outcomes are unacceptable.

Persistent congressional oversight is necessary to hold the Defense Department accountable and ensure that the legislation from recent years is being implemented efficiently and enforced correctly.

Ultimately, it is incumbent upon the military and its leaders to demonstrate that when these crimes occur, justice is served. But the window of opportunity for them to do so is closing, fast.

President Obama has told the Department of Defense that they have one year to demonstrate improvement. A provision we sponsored in the FY2013 NDAA mandated that an Independent Review Panel of legal, legislative, and military experts convene to thoroughly examine the programs and procedures used by the military to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate sexual assault crimes. This panel will be releasing a comprehensive report on military sexual assault in coming months. We in Congress will be analyzing these reports carefully, to learn from them, and also to ensure that every possible action is taken to eradicate this crime from the ranks.

Military sexual assault requires continued pursuit of meaningful reform. Now is the time for change, through legislation and through a much-needed cultural shift within the military that no longer accepts these crimes as normative, holds everyone accountable, and exacts standards of professionalism worthy of its servicewomen and servicemen. 

Rep. Niki Tsongas (D) of Massachusetts and Rep. Mike Turner (R) of Ohio are co-chairs of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus. They are co-authors of several recent pieces of legislation signed into law that address sexual assault in the military


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National Guard commander leads from experience

By Matthew Hay Brown, The Baltimore Sun, June 14, 2014

The public service video produced by the Maryland National Guard on sexual assault begins like others. There's footage of troops training in the field. A narrator warns of predators within the ranks. A succession of leaders discusses the impact of assaults on service members and their teams.

Then Brig. Gen. Linda Singh comes on the screen.

"Speaking from personal experience, and having been sexually molested as a teenager, I sought out what I thought was the right support structure," the commander of the Maryland Army National Guard says. "And, unfortunately, it turned out not being the support structure that I needed."

As military leaders grapple with rising reports of sexual assault in the ranks, Singh is believed to be the highest-ranking officer in the armed forces to discuss publicly her own experience of abuse.

Singh, 50, a Bronze Star recipient who has served deployments in Afghanistan and Kosovo, was appointed to command the Maryland Army National Guard last year by Gov. Martin O'Malley. She is responsible for a force of more than 4,750 soldiers — some of them now in Afghanistan, Estonia, the Horn of Africa or patrolling the nation's Southwest border — and a budget of more than $150 million.

In her civilian career, she is director of operations for health and public service in North America for the multinational management consulting firm Accenture in Northern Virginia.

"General Singh is a proven leader with extensive civilian and military experience," said Maj. Gen. James Adkins, the commander of the Maryland National Guard. "As with all citizen-soldiers, she had been able to hone and use skills acquired in both military and civilian capacities, providing a perfect fit for her role as commander of the Maryland Army National Guard."

Singh, who grew up in Urbana in Frederick County, says she was abused as a child and as a minor teenager. She says she made the decision to speak out after visiting an aid center in Afghanistan last year and witnessing the poverty and danger to which the children there were exposed.

"That's just the way they live," she said in an interview. "That's just kind of normal for them. And it gave me a very different perspective of, you know, I shouldn't take anything for granted. Yes, I've had a pretty tough upbringing. But I had a pretty good life compared to those kids."

Reports of sexual assaults in the military surged by 50 percent last year to more than 5,000 — a reflection, military leaders say, of aggressive efforts to encourage victims to come forward.

Officials believe the great majority of assaults still go unreported. In a 2012 survey of service members, the Pentagon found that 26,000 had experienced unwanted sexual contact in the previous 12 months.

Singh, a mentor in the guard and at Accenture, says she wants to help sexual assault survivors to get past blaming themselves, and to make sure that their assailants are held accountable.

"We're having a lot of problems with suicide," she said. "We're having a lot of problems with sexual assault. Sexual harassment. I have not had these situations while I was in uniform. But I know what it is to be a victim."

Singh, who has earned master's degrees in business administration and strategic studies and is working on a doctorate in psychology from Capella University, says it took her years to realize that she was worthy of her successes.

"If I can help someone else, just one person, to not have to go through that whole thought process that I have, and that takes so long, and they could be successful a whole lot sooner, or they can at least be happy with themselves, then I need to speak out, to talk about it now.

"I want to be a transparent leader. I want to be able to save someone from maybe thinking of taking their own life because they feel like they have no other choice."

Singh says she also has raised her experience with commanders to reinforce that they should take reports of assaults seriously.

The advocacy group Protect Our Defenders is sharply critical of the way the military has handled sexual assault. Nancy Parrish, president of the organization, praised Singh.

"We salute Brig. Gen. Linda Singh's bravery in coming forward and speaking out about her assault," she said. "Survivors should be at the forefront of the conversation of how to put an end to epidemic of sexual assault in the ranks."

Adkins said the guard is "fortunate to have General Singh and other leaders of her caliber at all levels of our organization who aggressively fight to ensure the threat of sexual assault is eliminated from our ranks and that victims receive the best support and care available."

Singh is the first woman and the first African-American to command the Maryland Army National Guard. (Her counterpart in the Maryland Air National Guard, Brig. Gen. Allyson Solomon, is the first woman and the first African-American to fill that role.)

It doesn't affect me in what I do," Singh said. "It affects me in what it means for the future. … It's really key right now to have someone that can be a role model for our younger leaders and just our young people, because many of them are looking to see, 'Well, how can I get to that level? If there's no one that looks like me at that level, then do I even have a chance?'"

Singh has led discussions of diversity both in the Army and among Accenture clients.

"It's really about diversity of people, diversity of capability and diversity of thought," she said. "And if I can help infuse that into the organization, then I know that we have the best leaders, we have the best people."

Singh works four days a week with Accenture and one with the guard. She chose her home in Prince George's County to be convenient to Baltimore, Annapolis, Washington and Northern Virginia.

She takes command of the Maryland Army National Guard as it transitions from a dozen years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq and deals with tightening budgets. It still will be expected to deploy to other countries and respond to disasters and other emergencies in the United States.

"We still have to maintain an operationally ready force," she said. "Because you can see with everything that's going on in the news, you never know when something's going to spike and you're going to be asked to fulfill that role."

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Report: Benefits claims related to sexual assault treated unevenly

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Soldiers in sensitive posts had abuse, drug histories

By Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY via USA TODAY, June 8, 2014 

WASHINGTON — More than 350 of the 588 soldiers the Army has disqualified from sensitive posts, including sexual assault counselors, had committed offenses ranging from sexual assault to drug abuse to theft, according to Army data obtained by USA TODAY.

They make up the largest group of the soldiers the Army has deemed unfit in the past year to serve as sexual assault counselors and victims' advocates, recruiters and instructors. They were swept up in a screening of troops in sensitive positions ordered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in light of the military's sexual assault crisis. This is the first time the Army has broken down the offenses that had disqualified them; it did so at the request of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

"We'd be lying if we said we had fully understood this problem," Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, the Army's personnel chief, told USA TODAY in an interview. "Now that we understand this problem we're saying we did not always pick the right people in the past. So let's get the people right."

Among the Army's findings:

• Fewer than 60 soldiers were disqualified because they were being investigated for sexual assault or harassment.

• About 140 soldiers were disqualified "due to a history of family member or child abuse."

• About 88 were disqualified "due to a history of alcohol or drug abuse."

Gillibrand, who heads the personnel panel on the armed services committee, said she found the Army's account lacking. In a letter to Bromberg on Friday, she pressed for more answers about what disqualified the soldiers, their positions in the Army and whether those kicked out of the Army received honorable discharges. The Army has moved to discharge 79 of the worst-offending soldiers.

"The military has been saying for over two decades 'we got it' and it is clear they dropped the ball," Gillibrand said in a statement. "So now they are saying, 'now we really got it' but continue to be less than fully transparent with data my office has requested on multiple fronts. I will continue to ask questions as there is much more work to be done."

Most of the soldiers have been reassigned to jobs that do not involve contact with what the Army considers "vulnerable populations," mostly young people being recruited or who recently joined the Army.


The Pentagon is screening thousands of personnel in sensitive positions for a history of abuse or bad behavior.(Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

The Army screened the backgrounds of about 20,000 soldiers working as recruiters, drill sergeants, sexual assault response coordinators and victims' advocates, said Christine Altendorf, director of the Army's program to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and assault. The 588 who were disqualified represent less than 3% of the total screened.

Soldiers are now screened extensively before being placed in sensitive posts, Bromberg said.

Just as important, Bromberg said, is a change to evaluations of officers and non-commissioned officers that includes an assessment of whether they foster a climate that does not tolerate sexual assault or harassment.

"We used to just evaluate officers by mission readiness," said Lt. Col. Geoff Catlett, executive officer for response and prevention office. "Are you ready to go to combat? Now we're evaluating officers and NCOs on whether you're ready to go to combat and have you created a command climate in which everybody is treated with dignity and respect."

Combating sexual assault is the top priority of Army Secretary John McHugh and Gen. Raymond Odierno, the chief of staff, Bromberg said.

"This is a complex problem that requires a comprehensive, detailed plan to change a culture over time," Bromberg said. "We're on the path to do that."

Follow @tvandenbrook on Twitter.

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Pentagon Says Uncovering the Truth about Military Sexual Violence Is Too Burdensome. Huh?

By Sandra S. Park, Staff Attorney, ACLU Women's Rights Project via ACLU on May 29, 2014

It's often said that people should be judged by their actions, not merely their words. The same is true of institutions, even the Department of Defense (DoD).

Facing intense criticism for how it responds to sexual violence within the military, the Pentagon has said: "Sexual Assault is a crime that is not tolerated, condoned, or ignored in the DoD. It is one of the most serious challenges facing our military."

Yet, in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation that has now been pending for three years, the Pentagon argues that releasing its records regarding military sexual violence is too "burdensome," because it involves a large number of documents. But that raises more questions than it answers: Doesn't the volume of documents only confirm the magnitude of sexual assault in the military? Why is the DoD opposing efforts to shed further light on military sexual violence, a necessary step to creating effective solutions?


In 2010 and 2011, the Service Women's Action Network, the ACLU, and the ACLU of Connecticut filed FOIA requests with the DoD and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), seeking documents relating to sexual violence, harassment, and domestic violence in the military. We wanted to fully understand how DoD commanders and the military justice system deal with complaints and how the VA treats disability claims submitted by veteran survivors. Ultimately, our goal was to share what we learned with the public and to craft meaningful reforms based on those insights.

Initially, we got little response to our requests.

After filing two lawsuits against the DoD and VA, we reached a settlement with the VA, resulting in the production of a number of documents. Battle for Benefits, the report issued by the ACLU and SWAN in November with the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic, drew on those records to illuminate the VA's discriminatory treatment of disability claims based on military sexual trauma. The report concluded that disability claims based on PTSD related to military sexual trauma were granted at a significantly lower rate than other disability claims. It also found VA regional offices treated these claims inconsistently. It included several policy recommendations for the VA that have been picked up by Congress.

But the litigation with the Pentagon remains ongoing, because it states that too many records would need to be turned over. We responded by narrowing our requests once we were able to determine which documents contain useful information on how the DoD deals with these cases, but it still will not comply with our requests.

More fundamentally, the Pentagon fails to recognize that the volume of records it possesses relating to sexual violence is simply a sign of the appalling rates of violence within the military. Its position is particularly disturbing because it would justify refusing to comply with FOIA whenever the request would expose deep-seated and widespread abuses within our government – the very point of the law.

Tomorrow the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will hear oral arguments in New York on whether the Pentagon can avoid releasing these records. Rather than seeing disclosure as a burden, the Pentagon should work with advocates to expose, and address, "one of the most serious challenges facing our military."

Simple justice and good government demand it.

Learn more about sexual assault in the military and other civil liberty issues: Sign up for breaking news alertsfollow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

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Army investigation: No sexual assault cover-ups in Alaska National Guard

A military investigation has cleared higher-ups within the Alaska National Guard of mishandling sexual assault cases. The Army Inspector General's report, completed last month, also found that Guard members did not feel concerned about the issue.

A brief summary of the findings was made public Wednesday in a one-page letter sent to Sen. Lisa Murkowski by the Department of Defense Inspector General, who had oversight over the investigation because senior officials within the Guard were under scrutiny. The agency finished its review early this month, and this week told Murkowski it concurred with the Army IG's findings.

The letter, signed by Acting Assistant Inspector General for Communications Larry D. Turner, concludes, "... The Adjutant General (TAG), AKNG, and other AKNG officials did not cover up any reported sexual assault incidents."

Gen. Thomas Katkus, who has led the Alaska National Guard since 2009 as the adjutant general and also serves as commissioner of the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, is satisfied with the Army findings, according to Maj. Candis Olmstead, public affairs director for the Alaska National Guard.

"Gen. Katkus is glad that the investigation was handled by an outside federal agency which has no agenda but ... to determine truth. He is cautiously guarded because there will always be room for improvement. But he is looking forward to seeing what areas we can improve upon," Olmstead said.

The IG's letter comes close to a year after Murkowski asked the independent agency to look into allegations that dysfunction within the Alaska National Guard's command climate impeded the reporting and investigation of sexual assaults, including attempts by some officials to try cover up incidents. Murkowski called for the investigation after two chaplains from the Alaska National Guard came to her seeking help. The chaplains for some time have tried to get help for victims they believe weren't helped the way they should have been.

Another victim advocate, Lt. Col. Ken Blaylock, who retired in 2012, has voiced similar concerns.

Since leaving the Guard, Blaylock, a former National Guard commander and staff officer, has emerged as a tenacious whistleblower with a laundry list of complaints about the command structure. He said this week he was unconvinced by the IG report, which clears that command structure of allegations it mishandled and covered up sexual assault cases.

"It's interesting that the inspector general did not interview me, since I have documentation which disproves his conclusions. I wonder how many other victims and witnesses he did not interview," said Blaylock.

The report has not yet been made public or released to Murkowksi.

In the letter to Murkowski, the inspector general indicates the report also addresses the climate in which Guard members are operating and whether they had concerns about sexual assault or sexual harassment reporting. "Climate sensing sessions" found no such concerns, according to Turner's letter.

Blaylock has asserted that climate surveys in the past have been used to smoke out anyone who might speak against the command structure. Out of fear of retaliation, people choose not to speak up, he said. Plus, Blaylock said, before the investigative team showed up, the Alaska National Guard held mandatory briefings in which the stories of some sexual assault situations were discredited and procedures about proper handling of cases reiterated.

Olmstead said climate surveys are always anonymous and the survey-takers are not subject to retribution for their answers. Only if the participant chooses to put his or her name on it would their identity be known, she said. Surveys may help a new commander get a sense for the working climate within the unit, and different command levels may also review the surveys "to assess how members of the unit feel about the quality of their work environment," she said.

Olmstead also said that while "all call" meetings did take place prior to the IG investigation and surveys, they were not convened for the purposes of skewing the results. All call meetings, which everyone attends, are not uncommon, and during those meetings information about process and procedure is often discussed. At no time were sexual assault stories or situations discredited, she said.

Blaylock has also questioned whether the IG actually had a chance to look at all of the evidence, meet with all of the victims and follow how all of the cases were handled, or if it followed only those cases the National Guard gave it access to.

In its inquiry, the Army IG found that 11 cases of alleged sexual assault were referred to Alaska law enforcement authorities -- proper procedure since military code requires investigation and prosecution of cases involving Alaska National Guard suspects. It also found that Katkus took action against two suspects, each time after the sexual assault allegations were substantiated against Guard members. Consequences included being discharged and separated from the Guard.

"We definitely did not just pass on a select group of cases. All of the cases that have been reported have been documented. And all of that information was readily available to the inspector general's team," Olmstead said.

Everything follows policy and procedure, and everything is reported, she said.

She also pointed out that Blaylock, who has not actively been a part of the command for nearly two years, is not is a position to have firsthand information about current cases or the way things have been handled.

Through its public affairs chief, Bridget Ann Serchak, the Department of Defense Inspector General declined to comment on the scope or procedures employed during its investigation. If someone like Blaylock had continued concerns, they were welcome to call the IG's hotline and initiate a whistleblower complaint and through that process could be interviewed, she said.

A Murkowski spokesman said the senator is withholding comment until she has an opportunity to see the full report.

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California Senate Approves Military Sexual Assault Bill – Senate Bill 1422

By  on Mon, 19 May 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — Today, the California Senate approved Senate Bill 1422, authored by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) on a bipartisan vote of 34 to 0. The bill would require cases of sexual assault of a service member of the California Military Department (CMD) be subject to the jurisdiction of local civilian authorities. The bill now goes to the Assembly for consideration.

“Sexual assault is a serious problem throughout our military. While Washington debates how to address this crisis, California can lead by example. Victims of sexual assault deserve our support and a respectful and effective justice system,” said Senator Alex Padilla.

The CMD is comprised of the following three components of the active militia: The National Guard, the State Military Reserve, and the Naval Militia. The CMD’s 24,000-person roster includes the California National Guard (CalGuard), the largest of the 54 state-level National Guards in U.S. states and territories. The majority of its service members are on inactive duty status. The federal government has struggled with how best to address sexual assaults. Federal mandates have included establishing a Sexual Assault Response Program (SAPR), Bystander Intervention Training (BIT) and a dual-track sexual assault reporting system for victims.

However, CMD lacks the personnel and infrastructure to adjudicate sexual assault cases. As a result, the CMD’s standing policy is to refer these cases to local authorities who are better equipped to investigate and prosecute potential crimes. Senator Padilla’s legislation would make this policy state law.

“Local jurisdictions are in a better position to prosecute sexual assault cases in California’s Military Department. Importantly, this practice also separates the investigation and prosecution from the chain of command ensuring that there is no conflict of interest in the evaluation and prosecution of sexual assault cases,” said Senator Alex Padilla.

SB 1422 requires that cases involving the sexual assault of a service member of the California Military Department be subject to the jurisdiction of local civilian authorities. It also provides for no statute of limitation in cases of sexual assault in the CMD. The bill also requires the department to report annually to the Governor and the Legislature on sexual assault statistics and the efficacy of the department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program.

Every two minutes, an American is sexually assaulted. 1 in 3 American women will be sexually abused during their lifetime. These crimes also take place in our military departments. The most recent report from the Department of Defense estimated that 26,000 service members had experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012, up from 19,000 in 2010. Last year, U.S. soldiers were 15 times more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by an enemy.

To address sexual assault in the military, the Department of Defense has instituted reforms at the federal level and mandated similar reforms to state military departments to ensure that incidents are reported, victims are provided services and service members of all ranks receive sexual assault prevention training.

Senator Alex Padilla, 41, graduated from MIT with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He currently serves on the Board of MIT and is President of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. He is Chair of the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee and represents the more than 1,100,000 residents of the 20th State Senate District in Los Angeles.


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House of Cards Boss Beau Willimon Answers Vulture Readers’ Questions

By  via Vulture, May 14, 2014

Last week, Vulture asked readers to come up with questions for House of Cards showrunner Beau Willimon. And you did! He couldn't answer every single one, but he did respond to 13 frank inquiries (pun intended). We tried for more, but Willimon is as adamant as Matthew Weiner when it comes to keeping a lid on story lines for future seasons. Needless to say, spoilers aplenty if you have not watched all of season two, but read on to find out about why Clare's backstory included a rape, the origins of the threesome, and whether or not Frank Underwood will ever lose. 

Given the lines Frank has crossed in order to finally become the president (murder, etc.), is there any chance he can be redeemed? —kevin.klawitter
Hmm. We don’t really think about Frank’s story in terms of redemption, because that presumes he operates on the same moral compass as most people do. Frank has his own code. And in his code, power is the most important thing, so you either have power or you don’t. In his worldview, it’s not a question of doing right or wrong, it’s a question of, do you wield power or don’t you? So, redemption in the conventional sense … it’s debatable whether he’s capable of that or not, but it’s the lens through which he sees the universe. 

If Frank actually is president for enough time to effect some change, what policies will he try to enact? Does he have any interest in positive change, or is everything connected to power/Claire/revenge? —christina.sweeneybaird
I think I answered that one in the first question. 

Was it always your intention to go darker and more serious than the original BBC series? —Bridget646
The short answer is yes. The BBC version is fantastic. You’ll find no bigger fan of it than me. I think Andrew Davies did an extraordinary job adapting Michael Dobbs’s novels, but the tone of it is much more tongue-in-cheek and satirical, and we wanted ours to be squarely in the drama category. Also we knew that in our first season alone, we would have more hours of content than all three seasons of the BBC version combined. And into our second season, over double that. So it meant that we were going to have to dig much deeper into our characters, include a lot of new characters, and expand the stories. I think that the world of television has become much more sophisticated in the past 25 years. Audiences have come to expect that. So we knew that, from the get-go, we would have a show that was very different than the BBC version. In terms of it being darker, that’s debateable. The BBC version is deliciously dark, but we want our darkness to come at a cost, the way it does in life, and you see that from time to time in our show. I think you can’t have darkness without putting it in relief. Otherwise it is just pure satire. So we try to do that whenever we can. 

Will Cashew be a regular next season? —daytimedrama
[Laughs] I guess that depends on whether SAG is willing to include other species in its membership.

The moment when Rachel bashes Doug Stamper's head in was the most surprising moment. Did you want to make more room for Rachel to play in season three? Is she an uncaged bird now? —Lillian4444
I don’t discuss anything about stories for upcoming seasons. I will say though that it was a choice to make Rachel a much more important character in season two. Originally, Rachel’s character was simply listed as "Call Girl" in the first two episodes, and she was never intended to go beyond that. But when I decided to expand Peter Russo’s story and have him run for governor, which was not a originally part of this story, the gubernatorial race was meant for another character altogether whom we hadn’t cast. I needed to make big changes to the story in order to accomplish that. The reason why I wanted to shift that story to Corey Stoll’s character was because Corey was doing such a marvelous job, really dazzling us in every scene, so I wanted to give him more. And when I made that choice, I looked at all the other characters we had available to us and thought about who would be most interesting to dramatize his downfall, and that was the call girl, so she got a name. What we discovered along the way was this really complex, intriguing relationship between her and Doug. Once you make a discovery like that, you want to dig in and make the most of it.

Did you have any hesitancy about writing the rape subplot for Claire? It seems so often now that on TV dramas a rape backstory is used as a plot device to make ruthless or powerful women more sympathetic. See: Mellie on Scandal, Victoria on Revenge, Elizabeth on The Americans. Just wondering if you were aware of this pattern and considered any other options before settling on this one. —cyberrr96
We weren’t really thinking about other shows when we came up with that backstory for Claire. What really inspired it was seeing an early screening of a documentary called The Invisible War. That’s a documentary that focuses on the problem of sexual assault in the military. I was really moved by that documentary. At the time, when I saw the screening, neither the show nor the issue was nearly as visible as it has become. But I was already thinking of the character of Jackie Sharp, a woman who has served in the military. I was thinking about sexual assault as the most brutal expression of power. And I thought that for Claire, to have experienced that and to have found her own way to take the power back, was right in line with our show. Because our show’s subject is power, and it can express itself in a lot of different ways. There’s the brutishness of sexual assault, but there’s also the power of the survivor to overcome it, and in Claire’s case, to name names and to push legislation to curb it. That all seems right in line with our show and with Claire. It wasn’t a choice to try to make Claire more sympathetic. I have zero interest in strategizing the sympathy factor for characters. A lot of our characters are quote-unquote unsympathetic, but you can’t take your eyes off of them, you’re engaged in their stories, you want to see what they do next, and Claire’s a great example of that. Really, I was interested in the theme of power, and placing one of our stars at the center of it. And she also ends up compromising her own bill in order to achieve other political ends. That’s also right in line with our show. You see something that Claire truly and deeply cares about, and yet she has to make a choice as to whether she was going to be uncompromising in her pursuit of reform, or whether she was going to do her part to help Team Underwood achieve the presidency. Those sorts of choices that people make in Washington all the time are the center of our show.

Do Claire and Frank have a sexual relationship? —maddieolariviere
That’s a great question. 

Why Meechum? Obviously the Underwoods have complete control over him already, he does nothing to advance their global domination or to advance the plot, other than to establish Frank's bisexuality. Wouldn't it have been more Underwood-esque to debauch, say, Jackie? —vmcartor
We don’t take a schematic approach to our storytelling. There are a lot of stories in our show that are causal: A leads to B leads to C. A lot of that has to do with political maneuvering. But there are also moments in our show and story lines that aren’t meant to add up in any rational way. I think that the Threechum scene is an example of that. If we didn’t access the irrational parts of Francis and Claire, all they would amount to is political calculation and sociopathy. But they have their human moments. They get drunk. They have desires. They have needs and whims like anyone else. In that scene, you see three people in a particular moment under particular circumstances, where something totally unexpected happens and yet happens organically. As it can in life. What I’m most proud of in that little story line was that the next day when Francis goes out to the car, Meechum says, “Beautiful day, sir.” Francis says, “Yes, it is,” and he gets in the car and back to business as usual as though it never happened. I think that’s a lot truer to life. Something happens, it happens unexpectedly, and we’re not going to make a big deal of it. There we see something that isn’t typically Underwoodian. It’s interesting that the person who asked the question used the adjective Underwood-esque. But if Francis and Claire only did things that were Underwood-esque, they would never surprise us and never surprise themselves. And as a threesome or any other encounter like that were mere calculation, it would have no mystery, and I think, in that particular case if it were Jackie, be quite sloppy on their part. With Meechum, they have someone that they fully trust. They have someone with whom this is possible, that they don’t have to worry about. Those are really the only circumstances under which something like that could happen. Otherwise, we’d really question their intelligence. 

Will anyone eventually realize that with regard to Peter Russo, it would have been impossible for him to turn on the car in the passenger's seat since keyless ignitions require you to step on the brake to start the car? Or has this been put completely to rest with the silence of Janine and Lucas? —eastcoastsnob
You should be hired on CSI immediately. 

It seems like he's won pretty much every battle and defeated (or murdered) pretty much every foe, so will you ever explore Frank actually losing? —sharipep
Another great question. I will say though that I think we have seen Frank experience loss. A great example of that is the sentinel episode, where we see what sacrifices he’s had to make in order to be where he is. There was a time in life where he could make a pure connection, where he could feel for someone completely outside of the realm of politics, and without consequence in a pure sense and it’s something that he can remember and be fond of, but he’s had to turn his back on that side of himself, with the exception of Claire, in order to live the public life that he lives. So there are lots of different forms of loss. In terms of political loss, I would say, in order to get Jackie Sharp on his side at the end of season two, he has to give up a certain degree of power, and so does Claire. So there are prices and costs for the choices they make. In terms of utter defeat, only time will tell. 

There's been talk about how the show's attitudes reflects the current political mood, or at least the prevailing attitude of American people toward government (contrast this with The West Wing, 1999 through early 2000s). How much do you think that's true, when it comes to the show's popularity, and specifically the popularity of the more detestable characters? —shansquared
I think the American public’s relationship with Washington is a complex one. In our show, we portray an extreme. at times exaggerated, dark version of Washington. Of course not all of Washington is like that. In fact, most people, I believe, go to work in government with all the best intentions: They want to serve their country, they want to serve their fellow citizens. And there are a lot of politicians and staff who maintain that part of themselves throughout their entire career. Those people just don’t happen to be the ones that we focus on in our show. There are a lot of shows about Washington right now. I think Veepcan reflect a certain comical and absurd view that we have of Washington. Alpha House takes the same approach. Our show takes a darker look. And The West Wing is still as popular as ever. Lots of people watch The West Wing on Netflix. So I don’t think that any one show can encapsulate either what D.C. is or how America feels about it. It’s such a vast and complicated place. I think that all these shows combined might begin to scratch the surface. But it’s reductive, I think, to assume that any one show can. 

What I imagine the greatest perk of running a show like this would be is that people in DC would approach you all the time and be like, "YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW CLOSE YOU REALLY ARE TO THE TRUTH." Please tell me if this has happened to you, and please, if possible, provide as many salacious, vague details as you can without getting into trouble. —ironypants
Kevin Spacey tells a great story, and you have to imagine him doing this in Bill Clinton’s accent, which he mimics perfectly. He was talking to President Clinton about the show, and President Clinton professed to be a fan, and he said, [in a Bill Clinton impersonation] “You know, Kevin, 99 percent of House of Cards is accurate. The one percent that’s not accurate is that you can never pass an education bill that fast.”

House of Cards BBC was a three-season story arc. Is there a possibility of House of Cards USA going beyond the three seasons? —cartmom1
I couldn’t possibly comment. 



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Bill pushes military on sexual assault prosecution

By Michael Gardner via U-T San Diego, May 9, 2014

 — California appears poised to pass first-in-the-nation legislation that would require the National Guard to turn sexual assault cases over to civilian prosecutors — a move meant to push the Pentagon and other states to become more aggressive in pursuing justice for victims.

“While Washington debates how to address the crisis, California can lead by example,” said Sen. Alex Padilla, a Pacoima Democrat carrying the measure.

His legislation would codify in law what’s already established policy within the National Guard and other smaller units formed under the California Military Department. That would prevent the military from later changing directions without legislative permission.

The reach of the legislation applies only to the California Military Department, of which the state’s National Guard is the largest branch. Supporters hope its passage will lead to similar steps being taken in other states and, eventually, encourage the Department of Defense to establish stronger protocols governing investigations and toughen penalties.

“It’s a warning to Congress that they need to get this done,” said Reid Milburn, a U.S. Air Force veteran intent on seeing the California measure signed into law.

Congress and the Pentagon have been acting under pressure.

Congress last year extended more rights to victims in new directives tucked into the annual defense authorization bill. Those strip commanders of their power to overturn jury convictions, protect victims from retaliation and require a dishonorable discharge for those convicted. Further reforms passed the U.S. Senate this year.

But the Pentagon recently has beaten back legislative proposals before the full Senate and in the House Armed Services Committee that would have taken away a commander’s option of pursuing prosecution and turn that authority over to military lawyers.

Military officials are adamantly opposed to relinquishing that authority. The power to punish or pardon is a tenet of military law rooted in the conviction that commanders must have the ability to discipline the troops they lead. Undercutting that role, top Defense Department officials warned, would send a message that there is lack of faith in the officer corps, thereby undermining the armed forces.

Also, the Pentagon recently revealed that sexual assault reports rose 50 percent in 2013 but largely attributed that to more confidence by victims that they will be treated fairly and their cases will be pursued. Nevertheless, critics say prosecutions and convictions are lagging. Last month, the Department of Defense announced it would launch a comprehensive review of the entire military justice system. The Pentagon has been under growing pressure to act after a number of reports of indifference, commanders overruling convictions and victims being punished with menial tasks or transfers to unwanted posts.

The California legislation, coupled later with stronger protections at the national level, would further “reassure survivors,” Milburn said. She is a member of the Veterans Caucus of the California Democratic Party, which has made addressing sexual assault one of its top priorities in the state and nation.

“In the past, they might have decided not to report if they had known there would be repercussions. This gives them protection from the good-old-boys club,” she said. 

Since 2011, there have been 43 reports of sexual assault, ranging from unwanted touching to rape, within the California Military Department units, according to the department. Some of those stem from incidents that occurred in previous years.

The department has not taken a position on the legislation, but has been working with Padilla and his supporters to craft the language. Milburn and others say the department has been cooperative. The department is prohibited by law from discussing in detail reported sexual assaults.

Lawson Stuart, chairman of the veterans caucus, said once California takes the lead it will prompt other states to follow.

“Why are they trying to block justice for those who are protecting us?” said Lawson, who also served in the U.S. Air Force.

Lawson said the caucus is reviewing related steps to take in the future. Among those: require the military to keep evidence even if the victim chooses not to file charges in case there is a change of heart after leaving the service.

The California Military Department is made up of the National Guard, the state Military Reserve, the office of the Adjutant General and the California Cadet Corps. It’s an all-volunteer force.

Under its policies, a victim has a choice of filing what are called “restricted” or “unrestricted” reports. A restricted report allows a victim to obtain medical treatment and other assistance without notifying law enforcement. By filing an unrestricted report, the incident is sent to the chain of command, a sexual assault coordinator and to police.

The two options were adopted to encourage reporting and “therefore increase the number of victims that receive the help they need to recover and heal,” according to an email from the military department. A victim advocate is assigned to each case regardless of status.

The department said since 2011, 36 of the 43 cases were filed as unrestricted — meaning they were sent to commanders and police to investigate. The outcome of those cases was not available.

The state legislation earlier received unanimous support in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. The Appropriations Committee is expected to take it up Monday.

Among its provisions, Senate Bill 1422 would erase the statute of limitations on filing sexual assault claims. If civilian authorities choose not to prosecute, the military could still proceed with a court martial under the bill.

The California District Attorneys Association has not taken a position on Senate Bill 1422. San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis did not respond to a request for comment.

No opposition has emerged.• (916) 445-2934


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Close Vote on Chain of Command

For Immediate Release

May 7, 2014


DC – Bill Silverfarb (202) 225-3531 / (202) 957-4340 cell;

CA – Katrina Rill (650) 342-0300 / (650) 208-7441 cell;


Congresswomen Speier: Close Vote on Chain of Command Moves the Ball Forward for Justice

WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswoman Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo/Redwood City) issued the following statement after the House Armed Services Committee voted down two amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act of FY2015 to reform how sexual assaults and other criminal offenses are prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Currently, the authority to prosecute such cases rests solely with the chain of command.

“The thoughtful and passionate debate tonight changed minds and votes. I was deeply moved by the statements of my colleagues especially those who served in the military. They more than anyone understand the importance of commanders, and how truly broken our military justice system is.” Congresswoman Speier said. “The growing support for taking sexual assault offenses out of the chain of command should encourage survivors and service members that we are closer to creating a fair and impartial military justice system.” 

“While we have much work in front of us, we are light-years ahead of where we started. It’s also important to remember that a majority of the American people is behind us, even if the House Armed Services Committee is not yet fully supportive.

“Our service members are stuck in a world where their fates rest within the chain of command, where bias is king and justice often a jester. My fight for survivors and reform will continue until these cases are handled by legal experts and not by those who are oftentimes proven to be the perpetrators,” Congresswoman Speier said.

Congresswoman Speier’s first amendment would have given the Chief Prosecutor of each service the discretion of whether to prosecute sexual assaults and other serious non-military offenses and received 13 yes votes to 49 no votes. The second amendment addressed only sexual assaults and received 28 yes votes to 34 no votes. It was the first time the committee voted on whether to take the criminal cases out of the chain of command and received bipartisan support.



Congresswoman Jackie Speier is proud to represent California’s 14th Congressional District, which includes parts of San Francisco and San Mateo counties. She is a senior member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the House Armed Services Committee (HASC). In her role on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the Congresswoman is a ranking member on the Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care, and Entitlements and serves on the Subcommittee on National Security. She serves on the Readiness Subcommittee and the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on HASC and is a member of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. Congresswoman Speier was appointed to serve as a Senior Whip for the Democratic caucus in the 113th Congress.

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