Austin follows Gillibrand's lead, calls for removing sexual assault investigations from chain of command

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will recommend to President Joe Biden that the military give up its authority for decisions relating to crimes of sexual assault and domestic violence.

The decision was first revealed in a statement late Tuesday, then reiterated by Austin at a House Armed Services Committee hearing Wednesday morning after a 90-day independent review commission briefed its findings the day before. The long-expected recommendation aims at increasing accountability for crimes of sexual assault and harassment. Austin went further by including domestic violence.

IOWA REPUBLICAN JONI ERNST, A SEXUAL ASSAULT SURVIVOR, CALLS FOR MILITARY JUSTICE REFORM

Members of Congress have been pushing to remove prosecutorial decisions from the chain of command. New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand led the charge, garnering 66 senators to support her bill, co-sponsored by Iowa Republican and Army Reserve veteran Joni Ernst. While that bill has stalled, Biden may give the go-ahead for a permanent change to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

“I fully support removing the prosecution of sexual assaults and related crimes from the military chain of command,” Austin told lawmakers. “The department will likely need new authorities to implement many of the IRC recommendations, and we will most assuredly require additional resources, both in personnel and in funding.”

However, the announcement is not universally backed by Pentagon leaders.

Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jim Inhofe released letters after the announcement Tuesday, signed by members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who opposed the measure.

Wednesday morning, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Army Gen. Mark Milley stated that the scourge of sexual assault must be removed from the Armed Forces. Milley, nonetheless, was one of those who signed a letter despite indicating in recent weeks that he was open to change.

“My mind is completely open to all kinds of opportunities to change here,” Milley told the Associated Press on May 2. “We, the chain of command, the generals, the colonels, the captains, and so on, we have lost the trust and confidence of those subordinates in our ability to deal with sexual assault.”

Biden had asked Austin to conduct the review and bring him recommendations and is therefore likely to greenlight the changes. Austin said he would work with Congress to make the changes to the UCMJ.

Gillibrand was furious at the Joint Chiefs letters Tuesday and the stalling of her legislation, which SASC Chairman Rhode Island Democrat Sen. Jack Reed has refused to take up in committee. Reed has offered instead to incorporate parts of the bill in the National Defense Authorization Act.

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“The content of these letters is disappointing but not surprising,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “Their arguments are recycled talking points from the battles for progress in the past and are void of any coherent argument beyond the disingenuous ‘good order and discipline.’”

Gillibrand and Milley have both recently cited a study that as many as 20,000 service members were sexually assaulted in the military in 2020.

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Tags: News, National Security, Department of Defense, Pentagon, Military Sexual Assault, Kirsten Gillibrand, Joni Ernst, Joe Biden, House Armed Services Committee, Senate Armed Services Committee, Jim Inhofe, Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs

Original Author: Abraham Mahshie

Original Location: Austin follows Gillibrand's lead, calls for removing sexual assault investigations from chain of command

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