Austin backs change in military sex assault prosecution

The statement came the day before Austin testified before the House Armed Services Committee amid escalating pressures from Congress to take concrete steps to address sexual assault. However, Austin’s memo does not comment on laws that change the military justice system more broadly and require independent lawyers to deal with all major crimes.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Has the support of 66 senators for a law to encourage independent prosecutors to deal with crimes that require more than a year in prison. But other major lawmakers and military service leaders have resisted including all major crimes, saying control of all crimes by commanders could undermine military readiness, undermine command, and require much more time and resources.

So far, Austin has publicly stated that he is open to changes recommended by an independent review board he has set up to investigate sexual assault and harassment in the military. The panel said sexual assault, sexual misconduct, domestic violence, stalking, retaliation, child sexual assault and the illicit distribution of photos should be removed from the chain of command.

In the statement, Austin said he supported the inclusion of these additional crimes because there was a strong correlation between them and the prevalence of sexual assault. Austin has reservations about the sweeping change outlined in Gillibrand’s bill, similar to those voiced by his senior executives, according to a defense official. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Over the past few weeks, in memos to Austin and letters to Capitol Hill, military service secretaries and chiefs said they were cautious about the change in sexual assault and expressed greater reservations about a broader transformation of the military justice system.

General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the dismissal of commanders from law enforcement decisions “may adversely affect readiness, mission fulfillment, order and discipline, justice, unitary cohesion, trust and loyalty between commanders and those who hold them.” . to lead.”

In a letter to Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Milley admitted that the military had made insufficient progress in combating sexual assault. However, he has repeatedly said that he is open to changing the sexual assault.

In a recent interview with the AP, Gillibrand said the broader change was necessary to address racial injustice within the military, where studies have shown that black people are more likely to be investigated and arrested for misconduct.

The independent review body on Monday made extensive recommendations to Austin on combating sexual assault in the military, including prevention, leadership, victim care and support.

“In general, they appear strong and sound,” Austin said in his statement. “I have directed my employees to create a detailed assessment and implementation plan for my review and approval.”

Austin said he would make his recommendations to President Joe Biden in the coming days. But he also noted that the changes require additional staff, funding and authorities. Priority will be given to those that can be carried out under the existing authority, he said, and other changes may take more time and require 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 on it. You don’t earn less. “

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