Retired Air Force Col. Don Christensen in his Washington, D.C., office on Friday at Protect Our Defenders, a national organization solely dedicated to addressing the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the military.

Retired Air Force Col. Don Christensen in his Washington, D.C., office on Friday at Protect Our Defenders, a national organization solely dedicated to addressing the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the military.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon misled Congress by using inaccurate or vague information about sexual assault cases in an effort to blunt support for a Senate bill that would make a major change in how the military handles allegations of sexual misconduct, an Associated Press investigation found.

Internal government records that summarized the outcomes of dozens of cases portrayed civilian district attorneys and local police forces as less willing than senior military officers to punish sex offenders.

The documents buttressed the Pentagon’s position that curbing the authority of commanders to decide which crimes go to trial – as the Senate legislation proposes – will mean fewer victims will get justice because there will be fewer prosecutions.

But in a number of cases, the steps taken by civilian authorities were described incorrectly or omitted, according to AP research and interviews. Other case descriptions were too imprecise to be verified.

There also is nothing in the records that supports the primary reason the Pentagon told Congress about the cases in the first place: To cast top military brass as hard-nosed crime fighters who insisted on taking the cases to trial after civilian law enforcement said no.

The records were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, which provided the documents exclusively to AP. The nonprofit group on Monday said it found no evidence that any case was prosecuted at a commander’s insistence.

Former Navy pilot Lt. Paula Coughlin, a member of Protect Our Defenders board of directors, called on Congress to hold hearings on what she called “this latest deception.”

Military representatives defended the accuracy of the information sent to Congress.

The bulk of the cases involved soldiers. Army spokeswoman Tatjana Christian said the case descriptions were written by service attorneys who had “personal and direct knowledge of the circumstances.”

She said they contacted the local authorities in each case to ensure the description was accurate, although there is no indication of that in the summaries.


filed under: