Obama orders Pentagon to review sexual assault response

 WASHINGTON  President Barack Obama is ordering a review of the military's response to sexual assault in the armed forces.

Obama says in a statement provided to The Associated Press that his administration has "an urgent obligation" to respond. The president is giving military leaders until Dec. 1, 2014 to report on their progress in responding to the crime - including in the military justice system.

"If I do not see the kind of progress I expect, then we will consider additional reforms that may be required to eliminate this crime from our military ranks," the president said in a statement.

The president's remarks are his first on legislation that would crack down on sexual assault passed by the Senate late Thursday.

Obama says if he doesn't see progress, he will consider further reforms to - quote - "eliminate this crime from our military ranks."

Obama isn't specifying what other reforms he would consider. The Senate is debating legislation, proposed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that would give victims of rape and sexual assault in the military an independent route outside the chain of command for prosecuting attackers, taking the authority away from commanders.

That proposal drew strong opposition from the Pentagon and several lawmakers. Gillibrand's plan is likely to get a separate vote, perhaps as early as next month.

The bill passed Thursday does strip military commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions, require a civilian review if a commander declines to prosecute a case and require that any individual convicted of sexual assault face a dishonorable discharge or dismissal. 

The bill also would provide victims with legal counsel, eliminate the statute of limitations for courts-martial in rape and sexual assault cases, and criminalize retaliation against victims who report a sexual assault.

The Pentagon has estimated that 26,000 members of the military may have been sexually assaulted last year, though thousands were afraid to come forward for fear of inaction or retribution. Several high-profile cases united Democrats and Republicans behind efforts to stop sexual assault in the ranks.

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