Pentagon chief backs changes to sex assault prosecution in military

Washington, Jun 22 (EFE).- United States Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin announced on Tuesday that he will back changes in the military justice system so that the prosecution of sexual assaults and related crimes are removed from the chain of command to an independent system.

It comes on the back of the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment report and recommendations.

In a statement, Austin announced that in the next few days he will present to President Joe Biden a series of recommendations to “finally end the scourge of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military.”

Austin’s remarks represent a radical departure from the traditional Pentagon stance, which for decades has resisted the intervention of independent justice, believing that commanders are best equipped to decide whether to press charges on harassment allegations and sexual assault.

Austin, who will testify before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, said he wants to work with Congress to achieve these changes in the military justice system.

However, he did not express his views on any of the bills that have recently been introduced to address that issue.

One of those initiatives, promoted by Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, goes beyond what Austin said Tuesday and seeks for all crimes, including murder and sexual assault, be handled by independent military lawyers, instead of members of the chain of command.

In addition, in the House of Representatives, Democrat Jackie Speier and Republican Mike Turner have presented another bill similar to Gillibrand’s and named after soldier Vanessa Guillén, who was murdered at the Fort Hood base in Texas.

The 20-year-old soldier disappeared in April 2020 after telling her family that she had been sexually harassed by one of her sergeants.

On Jun 30, her remains were found near the Leon River. A fellow soldier at the base and suspect in her murder took his own life.

The case of Guillén, of Mexican descent, attracted national attention and exposed the need for changes in the way the military investigate sexual abuse and harassment cases. EFE


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