The chiefs of the United States
Army, Navy, Marine Corps
, Air Force
, and other military
branches have expressed concerns about a broad Senate
bill aimed at reforming the military's criminal justice
Among other things, the bipartisan bill aims to overhaul how the military handles serious crime
allegations, such as sexual assault
Military commanders currently have the authority to decide whether to prosecute serious crimes such as sexual assault, murder
, and graphic imagery of children
. However, a reform bill introduced in April
by a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) would “professionalize how the military prosecutes serious crimes by moving
the decision to prosecute from the chain of command to the chain of command.”
“Sexual assault in our military is an epidemic, and it’s clear that the current system is not working for survivors,” Gillibrand said in April, as the bill was introduced. “Despite repeated efforts to protect our women
and men in uniform, rates of harassment and assault continue to rise while prosecutions decline.”
In letters to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), seven of the eight members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
voiced their opposition to the bill.
Inhofe, one of the bill's most vocal opponents, stated that he contacted the Joint Chiefs in April to solicit their personal opinions and advice on the bill, and that he released their individual responses on Tuesday.
Only one person — Gen. John Hyten, the body
's vice chairman who is currently being sued for sexual assault — did not send a letter to Inhofe, and it's unclear whether the senator even asked for Hyten's response in the first place.
We must get it right as we address the ongoing problem of sexual assault in the military. I asked top military officials for their thoughts and advice on legislation known as MJIIPA. Their responses convinced me that MJIIPA is NOT the right course of action. https://t.co/o52b2HoNPM
— Sen. Jim Inhofe (@JimInhofe) June 22, 2021
The Joint Chiefs of Staff expressed concern in their letters to Inhofe that the reform bill would erode military leaders' authority and thus impact military readiness; however, at least two of them stated that they were open to removing commanders' prosecutorial authority in cases of sexual assault.
According to Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “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.”
“I caution against any changes to commander authority,” he added.
Milley, on the other hand, admitted that the military has “not made sufficient progress in recent years to eliminate sexual assault” and stated that “in the specific and limited circumstance of sexual assault, I remain open-minded to all solutions.”
Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville stated in his letter that "removing commanders' case disposition authority would be detrimental to the good order and discipline required for effective warfighting."
However, if lawmakers approve the reform bill, McConville suggests that it only apply to cases of "rape
and sexual assault."
The bill currently has two-thirds of all senators' support, which is more than enough to overcome the chamber's 60-vote threshold for most legislation.
stated for the first time on Tuesday that he supports “removing the prosecution of sexual assaults and related crimes from the military chain of command,” and that he would work with Congress
to make that a reality.
Austin, like other top military officials, has expressed reservations about the extensive changes proposed in the Senate reform bill, according to a defense official.
This is a HUGE deal
, and something the Pentagon
has fought against for years in the fight to end military sexual assault: Defense Secretary Austin has recommended to @POTUS "removing the prosecution of sexual assaults and related crimes from the military chain of command" pic.twitter.com/ovoJ16zfHL — Molly O'Toole (@mollymotoole) June 22, 2021
According to Defense Department
data, according to The Wall Street Journal
, reports of sexual assault in the military have more than doubled since 2010.
On Wednesday, the House
is expected to introduce a similar military justice reform bill.
If you need assistance, call RAINN's National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or go to the website of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.