President Biden “strongly” supports Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s position to take sexual assault cases out of the military chain of command and hand them over to independent prosecutors, he announced Friday.
“Ending violence against women and eliminating sexual assault against any person in our country has been a priority for me throughout my career in public service. Sexual assault is an abuse of power and an affront to our shared humanity,” the commander-in-chief said in a statement.
“And sexual assault in the military is doubly damaging because it also shreds the unity and cohesion that is essential to the functioning of the US military and to our national defense.”
The decision comes after the Independent Review Commission on Military Sexual Assault recommended the creation of highly specialized units to handle such sensitive cases.
Austin revealed he had accepted the recommendations in a statement late last month, one day after receiving the advice from the independent commission.
Meanhile, a supermajority of 66 US senators — led by Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) — have backed an even broader bill that would have independent prosecutors handle military felonies that call for more than a year in prison.
The bill would take the military chain of command out of the equation altogether when it comes to major crimes.
A military commander’s ability to decide whether to turn cases over to authorities is a longstanding tradition in the armed forces.
As such, key lawmakers and military leaders have resisted Gillibrand’s bill, citing concerns that it would hurt the military.
US Army General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, said it would “have an adverse effect on readiness, mission accomplishment, good order and discipline, justice, unit cohesion, trust, and loyalty between commanders and those they lead.”
Milley made those comments in a letter last month to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who also opposes the scope of Gillibrand’s bill.
“I urge caution to ensure any changes to commander authority to enforce discipline be rigorously analyzed, evidence-based, and narrow in scope, limited only to sexual assault and related offenses,” he wrote to the Oklahoma senator.
Even Biden has stopped short of backing the broader legislation, asking the independent commission to focus only on addressing the problems of sexual assault and harassment, according to a senior administration official who spoke anonymously to the Associated Press.
With Post wires