Finish Commanders’ Energy to Block Army Intercourse Circumstances, Pentagon Panel Says | Voice of America
WASHINGTON – A Pentagon panel recommends that decisions to prosecute service members for sexual assault be made by independent authorities rather than commanders, which would be a major reversal of military practice and a long-sought change by members of Congress, The Associated Press learned Has.
The recommendation of an independent review commission set up by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin contradicts decades of vehement Pentagon arguments to keep cases within the chain of command. It was among a series of initial recommendations sent to Austin on Thursday, according to two senior defense officials.
Austin expects to reach out to military service leaders before making a final decision, officials said, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal reports that have not yet been made public. Fighting sexual assault in the military is a top priority for Austin, however, and the fact that this recommendation has been made so directly and quickly suggests that it will carry a lot of weight.
The proposed amendments outlined in the report represent Austin’s efforts to leave his mark on a problem that has long plagued the department, sparked widespread condemnation by Congress, and frustrated military leaders struggled to find preventive, treatment and law enforcement measures that worked.
The Review Board said that for certain crimes of special victims, independent judges designate to report to a civilian attorney general for special victims should decide two major legal questions: whether anyone should be charged and, ultimately, whether that charge should go to a court martial, they said officials. Crimes include sexual assault, sexual harassment, and possibly certain hate crimes.
According to officials, this recommendation would affect a small fraction of the multitude of military discipline cases that commanders deal with on a regular basis.
The panel also recommends investigating claims of sexual harassment outside the chain of command and promptly commencing the military’s dismissal of that person if an indictment is well founded while other legal proceedings continue.
Officials said an integral part of the panel’s deliberations was the belief that many members of the service have lost confidence in the system and that these changes would help restore that confidence. Ultimately, this could lead to increased reporting of victims of sexual assault. The changes would require an increase in resources and staff, but it is not yet clear how much.
However, removing judicial decisions from the chain of command will not remove a commander’s role in combating sexual misconduct, officials said. The department heads will continue to be responsible for creating an appropriate climate of command and must continue to play a role in preventing and combating sexual assault, harassment, and other issues with their service members.
Sexual assault reports have increased steadily since 2006, including a 13% increase in 2018 and a 3% increase in 2019, according to departmental reports. Data for 2020 is not yet available.
There have been a number of changes to the Military Justice Code over the past decade to strengthen the military prosecution of military sexual assault cases and to improve aid to victims. However, lawmakers like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand have long called for a more specific postponement, arguing that commanding officers should be deprived of their power to decide whether to bring serious crimes to justice.
These commanders, Gillibrand and others, are often reluctant to bring charges against their troops and to override or reduce court martial recommendations. And they say the victims keep saying that they refuse to file complaints because they don’t believe they have any support from their chain of command as their attacker is often a senior military member.
Military leaders have persistently fought against such change, saying it would undermine the chain of command. If senior military officials take away this authority, it will undermine the cohesion of the units.
“I’m tired of the statement I keep getting from the chain of command: ‘We have this, madam, we have this.’ You don’t have it! “Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, exclaimed during a Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing in May 2019.” They are failing us. “
Austin, in his first briefing after taking office in January, gave senior executives two weeks to send him reports of sexual assault prevention programs and an assessment of what has worked and what has not. In February he announced the creation of the commission.
The panel began its work in March, and at the time its chairwoman, Lynn Rosenthal, vowed to seek major changes that could change culture, improve care for victims, and hold perpetrators accountable.
Officials said other initial recommendations sent to Austin are aimed at professionalizing the workforce involved in the cases and calling for careers in military justice for prosecutors, judges, investigators and attorneys for the victims. They also recommended improvements to give victims protection orders and said there should be a set timeline for the judicial process.
Officials said they expect Austin to give service reps about a month to review the recommendations and come back to him with their response.
Every two years the Department of Defense conducts an anonymous survey, which is published with the annual report on sexual assault. The latest 2018 survey found that more than 20,000 service members said they had experienced sexual assault, but only a third of them submitted a formal report.
The polls were about 37% higher than two years ago, causing frustration within the department and outrage on Capitol Hill.
This year there has been more momentum for a change in law enforcement for sexual assault, and a number of senior congressmen appeared open to adjustments in the process.