May 24, 2022

US Defense Secretary Backs Change in Military Sex Assault Prosecution | Voice of America

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday said, for the first time, that he will support long-debated changes to the military justice system that would remove decisions on prosecuting sexual assault cases from military commanders.  

In a statement obtained by The Associated Press, Austin said he supported taking those sexual assault and related crimes away from the chain of command and letting independent military lawyers handle them. The Pentagon has long resisted such a change, but Austin and other senior leaders are slowly acknowledging that the military has failed to make progress against sexual assault and that some changes are needed. 

Austin pledged to work with Congress to make the changes, saying they would give the department “real opportunities to finally end the scourge of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military.” His public support for the shift has been eagerly awaited, sending a strong signal to the military and boosting momentum for the change. 

The statement came a day before Austin testifies to the House Armed Services Committee amid escalating pressure from Congress to take concrete steps to address sexual assault. Austin’s memo, however, does not express any view on legislation that would make broader changes to the military justice system and require that independent lawyers handle all major crimes. 

Senator’s proposal 

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, has the support of 66 senators for a bill that would have independent prosecutors handle felonies that call for more than a year in prison. But other key lawmakers and leaders of the military services have balked at including all major crimes, saying stripping control of all crimes from commanders could hurt military readiness, erode command authority, and require far more time and resources. 

FILE - In this March 14, 2021, file photo, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., speaks during a news conference in New York…
FILE – Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., speaks during a news conference in New York, March 14, 2021.

Until now, Austin said publicly that he was open to changes recommended by an independent review commission that he had appointed to take a look at sexual assault and harassment in the military. The panel said sexual assault, sexual misconduct, domestic violence, stalking, retaliation, child sexual assault and the wrongful distribution of photos should be removed from the chain of command. 

In the statement, Austin finally makes public that he supports the change, and says those additional crimes should be included because there is a strong correlation between them and the prevalence of sexual assault. According to a Defense official, Austin has reservations, like those expressed by his senior leaders, about the more expansive change outlined in Gillibrand’s bill. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. 

Military leaders hesitant 

In recent weeks, military service secretaries and chiefs, in memos to Austin and letters to Capitol Hill, said they were wary about the sexual assault change and laid out greater reservations on more broadly revamping the military justice system. 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Thursday, May 6,…
FILE – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon, May 6, 2021.

General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said removing commanders from prosecution decisions “may have an adverse effect on readiness, mission accomplishment, good order and discipline, justice, unit cohesion, trust, and loyalty between commanders and those they lead.” 

In a letter to Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Milley acknowledged that the military hadn’t made sufficient progress in combating sexual assault. He has repeatedly said, though, that he’s open to the sexual assault change. 

The independent review panel on Monday presented Austin with an expansive set of recommendations to combat sexual assault in the military, including prevention, command climate, victim care and support. 

“Generally, they appear strong and well-grounded,” Austin said in his statement. “I have directed my staff to do a detailed assessment and implementation plan for my review and approval.” 

Next steps 

Austin said he will present his recommendations to President Joe Biden in the coming days. But he also noted that the changes will require additional personnel, funding and authorities. The ones that can be done under existing authority will be given priority, he said, and other changes may take more time and will need help from Congress. 

“As I made clear on my first full day in office, this is a leadership issue. And we will lead,” he said. “Our people depend upon it. They deserve nothing less.” 

In a recent interview with the AP, Gillibrand said the wider change is necessary to combat racial injustice within the military, where studies have found that Black people are more likely to be investigated and arrested for misconduct. 

Gillibrand has argued against limiting the change to sexual assault, saying it would be discriminatory and set up what some call a “pink” court to deal with crimes usually involving female victims. 

“I’m deeply concerned that if they limit it to just sexual assault, it will really harm female service members. It will further marginalize them, further undermine them, and they’ll be seen as getting special treatment,” she told the AP. 
 

in U.S.
Related Posts

N. Korea Gives Mixed Messages on Talks with US | Voice of America

June 22, 2021

June 22, 2021

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA – North Korea on Tuesday downplayed the possibility of talks with the United States, several days after...

Biden, Moon Announce US-South Korea Vaccine Partnership | Voice of America

May 22, 2021

May 22, 2021

President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced at a White House meeting Friday a U.S.-South Korea vaccine...

George Floyd’s Family Holds Rally Marking One Year Since His Death | Voice of America

May 24, 2021

May 24, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA – Members of George Floyd’s family, and others who lost loved ones to police encounters, joined activists and...

Amazon to Buy MGM, Studio Behind James Bond and ‘Shark Tank’ | Voice of America

May 26, 2021

May 26, 2021

NEW YORK – Amazon is going Hollywood. The online shopping giant is buying MGM, the movie and TV studio behind...

Normandy Commemorates D-Day with Small Crowds, but Big Heart | Voice of America

June 6, 2021

June 6, 2021

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, FRANCE – When the sun rises over Omaha Beach, revealing vast stretches of wet sand extending toward distant cliffs,...

US Jobless Benefit Claims Drop Sharply  | Voice of America

July 1, 2021

July 1, 2021

WASHINGTON – Claims for jobless benefits dropped sharply in the U.S. last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, as the...

University of Hawaii Wins Up to $210 Million for Pacific Research | Voice of America

June 3, 2021

June 3, 2021

HONOLULU – The University of Hawaii is due to receive up to $210 million in federal funding over five years...

Hurricane Elsa Moving Quickly Toward Haiti, Dominican Republic | Voice of America

July 3, 2021

July 3, 2021

Hurricane Elsa is hurtling Saturday toward Haiti and the Domincan Republic, raising fears of flooding and mudslides in those countries...

Florida Rescue Workers Pull 37 People from Building Collapse | Voice of America

June 24, 2021

June 24, 2021

Officials in the southeastern U.S. state of Florida said they did not know what caused part of a 12-story beachfront...

US Capitol, Symbol of Democracy, Off-limits on Independence Day | Voice of America

July 4, 2021

July 4, 2021

WASHINGTON – As it has been for nearly 16 months, longer than any time in the nation’s history, the U.S....

NFL Fines Washington $10M After Misconduct Investigation | Voice of America

July 2, 2021

July 2, 2021

The NFL has fined the Washington Football Team $10 million and owner Dan Snyder is stepping away from day-to-day operations...

10 Bodies Recovered, 151 Still Missing from Wreckage of Miami Building | Voice of America

June 28, 2021

June 28, 2021

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced Monday one additional body has been recovered, bringing the total to 10 killed and...

Blinken Heads to Rome Focusing on Syria and Defeating IS Terrorists | Voice of America

June 27, 2021

June 27, 2021

After being warmly welcomed in France and Germany, Secretary of State Antony Blinken heads to Italy on Sunday to meet...

Blinken’s Visit to Jordan Ends Tour to Solidify Mideast Cease-fire | Voice of America

May 26, 2021

May 26, 2021

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday ended his Middle East tour to bolster the cease-fire agreement between Israel...

5 Dead in New Mexico Hot Air Balloon Crash | Voice of America

June 27, 2021

June 27, 2021

A hot air balloon crashed Saturday in an Albuquerque, New Mexico, neighborhood, killing five people after it was apparently blown...