President Joe Biden on Friday put his stamp of approval on a long-debated change to the military justice system that would remove decisions on prosecuting sexual assault cases from military commanders.
Biden, however, stopped short of backing a congressional effort to strip commanders of oversight of all major crimes.
The president formally approved more than two dozen recommendations made by an independent review commission on sexual assault in the military. The changes include shifting decisions on prosecuting sexual assault cases to special victims prosecutors outside the chain of command to remove any appearance of conflicts of interest.
DEFENSE SECRETARY AUSTIN RECOMMENDS MILITARY REMOVE SEXUAL ASSAULT CASES FROM CHAIN OF COMMAND
The military’s sexual assault response coordinators and victims advocates also would be removed from the command structure system.
Reports of sexual assaults in the military have steadily gone up since 2006, according to Defense Department reports, including a 13% jump in 2018 and a 3% increase in 2019.
“I look forward to working with Congress to implement these necessary reforms and promote a work environment that is free from sexual assault and harassment for every one of our brave service members,” Biden said in a statement endorsing the recommendations.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has the support of 66 senators for a bill that would have independent prosecutors handle all felony cases that call for more than a year in prison. But other key lawmakers and leaders of the military services have balked at including all major crimes. There are concerns that stripping control of all crimes from commanders could hurt military readiness, erode command authority and require far more time and resources.
Biden hailed Gillibrand’s work on the issue. But he asked the commission to focus only on addressing the problems of sexual assault and harassment in the military, said a senior administration official who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Asked about the Gillibrand legislation, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden “looks forward
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