Overnight Defense & National Security — The next fight for military justice

·5 min read
The Pentagon is seen on Thursday, November 4, 2021 in Arlington, Va.
The Pentagon is seen on Thursday, November 4, 2021 in Arlington, Va.


It's Thursday, welcome to Overnight Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act included major reforms for the military justice system, but sets up a new fight for further reform.

More on that, plus the latest Marines to be separated for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine, and the Pentagon's contract for producing COVID-19 test materials.

Note: Overnight Defense will be taking off tomorrow but will return Monday. Happy New Year!

For The Hill, I'm Jordan Williams. Write to me with tips jwilliams@thehill.com.

Let's get to it.

NDAA sets up new fight for military justice

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) addresses reporters during a press conference on Wednesday, December 8, 2021 to discuss the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act as the Senate takes up the National Defense Authorization Act.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) addresses reporters during a press conference on Wednesday, December 8, 2021 to discuss the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act as the Senate takes up the National Defense Authorization Act.

The fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last week ushered in a massive military justice overhaul, but also set up the next political fight over the role of commanders in prosecutions.

A provision of the mammoth defense bill would remove commanders from the chain of command when prosecuting certain crimes like sexual assault, while still giving them some authorities like picking juries and calling witnesses.

Advocates and their allies in Congress are gearing up for the next push, demanding that among other things commanders be completely removed from the process.

What the NDAA accomplished: The most controversial reform included in the final version is how the military prosecutes certain crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Under the legislation, the decision to prosecute 11 crimes - like rape, murder, manslaughter and child pornography - would be given to "special trial prosecutors" who are outside of the chain of command.

But despite the controversy surrounding some aspects of the bill, advocates hailed other reforms in the NDAA that largely went unnoticed.

For example, the legislation makes sexual harassment a punishable offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and allows judges to hand down sentences in noncapital courts-martial.

Rachel VanLandingham, a professor of law at Southwestern Law School, characterized the changes as a "chink in the armor" of military justice reform.

What now? The Department of Defense will soon begin to implement the changes included in the NDAA, and it remains to be seen how these changes will impact military justice.

"We've already made major changes in the military justice system, and this is the next step, this current set of changes and victories," Ret. Capt. Lory Manning, director of governmental affairs for the Service Women's Action Network, said of the changes in the NDAA. "And it's a big one and we need time now to see how that affects this whole problem."

Read the full story here.

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Over 200 Marines booted for vaccine refusal

More than 200 Marines have been removed for refusing to comply with the Pentagon's COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Capt. Andrew Wood, a Marine Corps spokesperson, said in an emailed statement that 206 Marines have been separated to date for not getting vaccinated.

Earlier this month, the Marines announced that 103 service members had been separated for refusing to comply. Last week, that number rose to 169.

The Marine's current stats: The deadline for active-duty Marines to get vaccinated was Nov. 28, and reservists had until Tuesday to be in compliance.

Overall, 95 percent of the more than 182,000 active-duty Marines are at least partially vaccinated, while 94 percent are fully vaccinated, Wood said in the statement. These numbers are on par with the vaccination rate from earlier this month.

However, the vaccination rate for reservists increased, with at least 86 percent of reservists at least partially vaccinated and 83 percent fully inoculated.

The Marine Corps is still tracking 1,007 approved administrative or medical exemptions, Wood added.

The number of requests for religious accommodations, however, has risen to 3,247. Of these, the service has not approved any of the 3,115 requests that it has processed.

Read more about that here.

$136M contract for COVID-19 test materials

A man walks by a sign at a Merck plant in Rahway, N.J.
A man walks by a sign at a Merck plant in Rahway, N.J.

The Department of Defense (DOD) announced on Wednesday that it was awarding a $136.7 million contract to the Merck-owned brand MilliporeSigma for the domestic production of a material critical for COVID-19 rapid point-of-care tests.

In a statement, the DOD said the contract - awarded on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services - will go toward the production of nitrocellulose membrane in the U.S. That membrane is a material for the production of rapid coronavirus tests.

Testing in short supply: The contract comes amid short supply of COVID-19 tests amid the surge of the highly transmissible omicron variant, which has driven a surge in infections.

Earlier this week, President Biden acknowledged that more could have been done to ensure coronavirus testing availability.

"Seeing how tough it was for some folks to get a test this weekend shows that we have more work to do. We're doing it," Biden said in a COVID-19 response team call with governors on Monday.

While touting the recently approved availability of at-home COVID-19 tests, Biden acknowledged that "it's not enough, it's clearly not enough."

Read the full story here.

WHAT WE'RE READING

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Well, That's it for today! Check out The Hill's defense and national security pages for latest coverage. See you Monday!

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