Shortly after Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and each of the service branch heads sent letters to the Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Republican, in which they warned that a proposed radical measure to change the military’s justice system is too extreme, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stated he will support congressional efforts to remove the prosecution of sexual assaults and other crimes from the military chain of command.
Austin’s announcement revealed a serious split between the Pentagon’s senior military brass and its civilian leaders.
Recall the partisan criticism that President Trump did not heed the advice of his military brass. It appears that President Biden is following the same approach. First on Afghanistan. Now on this issue.
Milley and the chiefs said legislation proposed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act of 2021, may have unintended consequences on unit discipline because its reach would take commanders out of the prosecutorial chain of every non-military crime, not just sexual assault. They added that even a bill limited only to sex crimes could have unintended consequences on their ability to maintain discipline in the ranks.
In addition to Gen. Milley, all the service chiefs concurred. These included Army Chief Gen. James C. McConville, Navy Chief, Adm. Michael Gilday, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David H. Berger; Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown; Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond and Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, all expressed deep caution in their letters.
Their letters were sent to Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. In his own statement, Inhofe said that the proposed bill “would not reduce sexual assault or other crime in the slightest and would complicate the military justice system unnecessarily.”
According to Defense One: “Efforts to revise how the military handles sexual assault and harassment cases are being driven within the Pentagon and Congress. Legislation was introduced last year after the murder of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen.” Because of that, notes Defense One:
Biden administration officials have said the issue of sex crimes in the military is an immediate priority. Shortly after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was confirmed, he directed an internal, independent commission to look at how the military could handle those cases better.
The panel’s first recommendation was to remove sexual assault prosecutions from the chain of command, a step long resisted by senior military leaders who have argued against drastic changes to the military’s internal justice system and traditions.
“In coming days, I will present to President Biden my specific recommendations about the commission’s findings, but I know enough at this point to state the following,” Austin said in the statement.
“First, we will work with Congress to amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice, removing the prosecution of sexual assaults and related crimes from the military chain of command, but I know enough at this point to state the following,” he said.
“The [Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment] recommended the inclusion of other special victims’ crimes inside this independent prosecution system, to include domestic violence. I support this as well, given the strong correlation between these sorts of crimes and the prevalence of sexual assault.”
Austin’s statement contrasts sharply with the Joint Chiefs, who described in their letters their strong discomfort with Gillibrand’s proposed radical reforms. In his letter, Milley stated that:
It is my professional opinion that removing commanders from prosecution decisions … may have an adverse effect on readiness, mission accomplishment, good order and discipline, justice, unit cohesion, trust, and loyalty between commanders and those they lead. However, in the specific and limited circumstance of sexual assault, I remain open-minded to all solutions.
The Navy chief, Adm. Gilday said the measure, as currently written, could lead to serious unintended consequences. He said:
My first concern is with the broad scope of offenses that would be covered by an alternate judge-advocate run process. By removing commanders’ authority to effectively respond to many of the most serious threats to good order and discipline, … [the legislation] erodes the ability of commanders to create and maintain the environment necessary to effectively exercise mission command.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. McConville expressed a similar sentiment in his written response to Mr. Inhofe, saying the law should apply only to rape and sexual assault. ADN