Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Monday changes to a section of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to prevent commanders from dismissing court-martial convictions.
The changes come after an Air Force commander dismissed a conviction of aggravated sexual assault against a lieutenant colonel under Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Congress must approve the changes.
Under the new version of Article 60, commander will not be able to dismiss convictions but still would be allowed to reduce sentences with written explanation. Such sentence reductions cannot be appealed or questioned.
The authority to reduce sentences was retained to allow plea bargains and equitable treatment if multiple offenders are convicted, said a senior defense official who briefed reporters.
The official also said a Pentagon review of the Air Force case ordered by Mr. Hagel found that the commander had acted within his authority under Article 60 to dismiss the lieutenant colonel’s conviction.
“Addressing the problem of sexual assault will remain a top priority for the department’s leaders for as long as this crime continues to hurt our people and weaken the force,” Mr. Hagel said in a statement.
The defense secretary also announced that he is reviewing other options to strengthen the department’s efforts to prevent and respond to sexual assault, adding that he will name nine people to a panel that will assess how such cases are handled. The review panel will be in place around July.