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News Wrap: Senate blocks bill removing commanders from military sexual assault decisions

March 6, 2014 at 6:06 PM EDT
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: The Senate blocked a bipartisan bill on military sexual assaults today. It would have removed commanders from decisions about prosecuting sexual assault cases. Supporters of the measure, sponsored by New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, argued far-reaching changes are needed to curb the number of rapes and sexual assaults.

Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO, D-Hawaii: This bill has nothing to do with taking commanders and telling commanders they are fired or that they are morally bankrupt. They should continue to be held accountable for creating a command climate where sexual assaults do not occur, or certainly not occur by the tens of thousands.

GWEN IFILL: The legislation was strongly opposed by the top brass at the Pentagon. Senators like South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham agreed with the military leaders that they should have more, not less, responsibility for the conduct of their troops.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: The person we choose as a nation to run the finest military in the world, the commander, has the absolute authority to maintain that unit for readiness, and if you don’t give that commander the tools and hold them accountable, that unit will fall apart right in front of her eyes, because some lawyer somewhere is no substitute for the commander who is there every day.

GWEN IFILL: A majority of senators supported the measure, but it fell five votes short of the 60 votes it needed to advance. Another bill that would impose automatic reviews of a commander’s decision not to prosecute passed. A final vote is scheduled for Monday.

Meanwhile, at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the most senior military member ever to face trial for sexual assault pleaded guilty on three counts today. Army Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair still faces five additional, more serious charges, including sexual assault. A jury of five generals presiding over the court-martial will decide his fate. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.

A NATO airstrike killed five Afghan soldiers today. Coalition officials, who said their deaths were accidental, offered their condolences. The incident happened early this morning in eastern Logar province.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said a probe is under way to determine why the soldiers were targeted. He spoke during a visit to Sri Lanka.

PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI, Afghanistan: We are investigating the nature of this attack on our — on Afghan troops, where, unfortunately, five of our soldiers lost their lives. This attack, NATO has admitted to and has said that they did it mistakenly. We will investigate the issue and then speak about it.

GWEN IFILL: The strike comes as the U.S. and Afghanistan are negotiating a bilateral security agreement to keep limited U.S. forces in the country beyond 2014.

Bombs and clashes hit five cities in Iraq today, killing at least 42 people. Most were explosive devices in parked cars. They went off in commercial areas, including an outdoor market. Bombings have been on the rise across Iraq since last year, as al-Qaida and Sunni insurgents have upped their battle to undermine the Shiite-led government.

Moammar Gadhafi’s son Saadi arrived in Libya today after being extradited from Niger. He’d been under house arrest in the West African nation since his father’s regime collapsed in 2011. Libyan government officials said Saadi is now being held at this prison in Tripoli, where a group of Libyans gathered to celebrate today. Libya wants to try the 40-year-old for using force against protesters opposing his father’s rule.

More than half of American public schools need repairs or modernization, the price tag, nearly $200 billion. That’s according to a new survey out today from the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Many school districts, laboring under slashed budgets during the recession, have been forced to delay building improvements.

President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative to help young men of color got a major boost today with a billion-dollar investment. It comes from the Opportunity Finance Network, a national group of community development financial institutions. The pledge is to originate a billion dollars each year in new financing to invest in low-income disadvantaged communities, particular opportunities for black and Latino young men.

The office supply chain Staples is closing 225 of its stores in North America by the end of next year. The closings will affect more than 10 percent of its 1,500 stores in the U.S. Staples now makes about half of its overall sales online. The move is designed to save $500 million.

There was upbeat data today about the state of the nation’s labor market. The number of people filing for jobless benefits dropped to its lowest level in three months. Stocks on Wall Street reacted mostly favorably. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 61 points to close at 16,421. The Nasdaq fell more than five points to close at 4,352. The Standard & Poor’s index had its third all-time high this week, rising three points to close at 1,877.