End the commander’s power to thwart military sexual incidents

Washington (AP) -The Pentagon Commission has decided to prosecute military personnel for sexual assault, a major reversal of military practice and a long-sought change that members of Congress have long sought, independent rather than commander. Recommended to be done by the authorities. Have learned.

The recommendations of an independent review board, made by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, go against decades of intense debate in the Pentagon to keep the case in the chain of command. This was one of the first recommendations submitted to Austin on Thursday, according to two Pentagon officials.

Austin expects to seek feedback from military leaders before making a final decision, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity and discussed an internal report that had not yet been published. However, the fight against sexual assault in the military is a top priority for Austin, and the fact that this recommendation was made very directly and quickly suggests that it carries a great deal of weight.

The proposed changes outlined in the report represent Austin’s efforts to leave his footsteps on the issues that have plagued the department for a long time, causing widespread congressional criticism, prevention and treatment. Frustrated military leaders struggling to find prosecution efforts.

The jury reports on the crimes of a particular special victim to the civilian-led office of the Supreme Special Victim Prosecutor. I said it was necessary. Court-martial, officials said. Crime includes sexual assault, sexual harassment, and in some cases certain hate crimes.

According to the authorities, the recommendation will affect a small portion of the widespread military discipline cases that the commander handles on a regular basis.

The Panel will also investigate allegations of sexual harassment outside the chain of command, and if prosecution is substantiated, the military will immediately begin the process of dismissing the person from the military while other legal proceedings continue. Is recommended.

Officials said the panel’s deliberations were driven by the belief that many service members lost confidence in the system and that these changes would help restore that trust. Ultimately, they said it could lead to increased reports by victims of sexual assault. The change will require more funding and staff, but it’s not yet clear how much.

However, removing legal decisions from the chain of command does not eliminate the commander’s role in dealing with sexual misconduct, officials said. The unit leader is responsible for setting up an appropriate command environment and must be responsible for preventing and addressing sexual assault, harassment, and other issues with service members.

According to department reports, reports of sexual assault have increased steadily since 2006, increasing by 13% in 2018 and 3% in 2019. Data for 2020 is not yet available.

Over the last decade, many changes have been made to military court law to add private surveillance to the prosecution of military sexual assault cases and to strengthen support for victims. However, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and others have long called for a more specific shift, arguing that the commander should be deprived of the authority to decide whether a serious crime will be brought to justice. I’ve been doing it.

These commanders, Gillibrand and other allegations often hesitate to pursue accusations against their army, dismissing court-martial recommendations or reducing accusations. Victims have also consistently stated that they are reluctant to file complaints because they do not expect to receive support from the chain of command because the attackers are often senior military personnel.

Military leaders have been constantly fighting such changes, saying they are eroding the chain of command. Depriving it of its authority would undermine the unity of the unit, as senior military officials said.

“I’m fed up with statements from the chain of command that are repeated over and over again.” We got this, Madame, we got this. “You got it. I don’t have! Gillibrand, a Democrat in New York, shouted at a hearing of the Senate Military Committee in May 2019. “You are making us fail.”

Austin, in its first directive after taking office in January, gave senior leaders two weeks to send a report on the sexual assault prevention program and an assessment of what worked and what didn’t. .. In February he announced the creation of a committee.

The panel began work in March, when Chair Lynn Rosenthal vowed to seek major changes that could change culture, improve victim care and hold criminals accountable. ..

Officials said the other first recommendation sent to Austin specialized the workforce involved in the case, seeking a military career track for prosecutors, judges, investigators, and defenders of victims. He said he was aiming to do so. They also recommended improvements to allow victims to obtain protection orders and said they needed to schedule a judicial process.

Officials said Austin expects the service leader to review the recommendations and give him about a month to come back in their response.

The Pentagon conducts an anonymous investigation every two years and publishes it with its annual report on sexual assault. According to the latest survey conducted in 2018, more than 20,000 service members have experienced some form of sexual assault, but only one-third have submitted formal reports.

The number of surveys was about 37% higher than the previous survey two years ago, fueling dissatisfaction within the department and anger at Capitol Hill.

The change to prosecution of sexual assault is gaining momentum this year, and it sounds like many senior parliamentary leaders are accepting adjustments in the process.