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Biden strips military commanders of oversight in sexual assault cases

President Joe Biden speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Aug. 26, 2022. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)
July 28, 2023

President Joe Biden implemented a major military shift on Friday, signing an executive order that entrusts decisions on the prosecution of severe military crimes, including sexual assault, to independent military attorneys rather than victims’ commanders.

The president’s action follows the path of legislation passed by Congress in 2022 to fortify protections for service members. It has been described by senior Biden administration officials as the most significant change to the military’s legal code since it was established in 1950.

The military justice change is seen as a breakthrough for those who have tirelessly fought to reform the way the military deals with sexual assault cases. Among the leading advocates is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who spent a decade spearheading the legislative changes that are now brought into effect through Biden’s order, according to The Associated Press.

Commenting on the change, Gillibrand remarked, “While it will take time to see the results of these changes, these measures will instill more trust, professionalism, and confidence in the system.”

The call for the military justice shift came in response to the escalating number of sexual assault incidents in the military. Congress members, growing frustrated over the issue, contended that independent attorneys would bolster prosecutions, countering occasional neglect of charges or incidents by commanders seeking to shield those accused within their units.

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According to The Associated Press, the change to the military’s system of justice was among the recommendations made in 2021 by an independent review commission on sexual assault in the military, established by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. In anticipation of this legislative change, the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force set up special trial counsel offices, ready to assume authority over prosecution decisions by the end of the year.

From January 1, 2025, the prosecution authority will extend to sexual harassment cases. This comes as the military wrestles with rising sexual assault cases, reaching over 8,942 reports during the 2022 fiscal year, according to The Associated Press. Despite the rising trend in cases, defense officials argue that the increased reporting indicates growing confidence in the system and more offenders being held accountable.

The president’s executive order, in conjunction with the legislation approved by Congress, symbolizes a significant stride towards ensuring justice, transparency, and accountability within the military system, laying the foundation for a safer and more professional environment for all service members.

This news article was partially created with the assistance of artificial intelligence and edited and fact-checked by a human editor.