For their part, Pentagon officials say the deletion of bestiality is a legal technicality and does not represent any fundamental change in the military’s moral code for servicemembers (and service animals).
“The department’s position on this issue remains unchanged and that act remains illegal,” said defense spokesman Lt. Col Todd Breasseale.
But Breasseale said the whole controversy is off-base.
Even if Article 125 is removed, the UCMJ contains provisions under which troops can be punished. Article 134, for example, forbids “all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces” and “all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.” Breasseale said that would cover any and all animal abuse.
In fact, past instances of bestiality in the military have been prosecuted under that statute, instead of Article 125. The legal record dates back to 1957, when Pvt. Ricardo Sanchez was convicted of “an indecent act with an animal” under Article 134, even without specific wording prohibiting sex with animals.
In addition, before the potential language changes reached Congress, the Joint Service Committee on Military Justice drafted a list of punitive offenses under the UCMJ which specifically includes animal abuse. That is set to be included in the Manual for Courts-Martial, and will give clear guidance on what to do in such cases.
Breasseale said the change pending before Congress is truly just a legal clean-up effort, and will in no way endanger animals.
“It is difficult to envision a situation where a servicemember engages in sexual conduct with an animal that would not be conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline or service-discrediting,” he said.