A Senate subcommittee on Tuesday advanced an amendment to overhaul the military’s process for prosecuting major crimes, including sexual assault, by removing decisions from the chain of command.
The Senate Armed Services Personnel subcommittee approved the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act, introduced by Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, New York Democrat, as an amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act.
“This is an important step forward for this much-needed legislation, which would deliver true justice to our service members by moving the decision of whether to prosecute sexual assault and other serious non-military crimes out of the chain of command and giving it to trained, professional military prosecutors,” Mrs. Gillibrand said.
The measure has gained bipartisan support in the House and the Senate. Mrs. Gillibrand’s bill has 66 co-sponsors in both parties; a companion House bill introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, has more than 200 co-sponsors.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer has backed the legislation and has reportedly assured a Senate floor vote on the bill. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has also supported measures for reforming the military justice system and removing sexual assault prosecutions from military commanders.
But the issue remains contentious among the Pentagon’s top brass, who say removing authorities granted to military commanders could impact military culture and discipline.
After the amendment was introduced, Sen. James M. Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, requested several military leaders provide their “personal views and best military advice” on the legislation.
Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, responded that 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.”
“However, in the specific and limited circumstances of sexual assault, I remain open-minded to all solutions,” Gen. Milley wrote.
Mr. Inhofe and Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have opposed the expansive overhaul proposed by the legislation, preferring that the scope be limited to sexual-assault cases.
The full committee will vote on the measure later this week during a closed session.