United States President Joe Biden listens as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, USA on Wednesday, February 10, 2021.
Michael Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images
President Joe Biden said Friday he “strongly supports” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s decision to urge Congress to remove the investigation and prosecution of military sexual assault cases from the chain of command of the armed forces.
“We need concrete measures that fundamentally change the way we deal with military sexual assault and make it clear that these crimes are not belittled or dismissed,” said Biden in a statement released by the White House.
Austin said Friday that he had accepted the key recommendations of the Independent Review Commission on Military Sexual Assault.
Read more about CNBC’s political coverage:
The Pentagon chief said he is instructing the Department of Defense to work with Congress to amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice to remove the prosecution of sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and retaliation from the military chain of command.
Austin also said the department will seek to include sexual harassment as a criminal offense in the UCMJ.
And the department will seek the establishment of special offices within the secretariat of each military department to handle the prosecution of crimes “with appropriate legal oversight and guidance” by the office of the Secretary of Defense.
The directive is less broad than a bill pushed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, DN.Y., to mandate independent military prosecutors – not military commanders – to handle all military-related crimes, not just sexual assault, domestic violence crimes and child abuse.
Austin said in his briefing: “Our most important asset as a department is our people, and our people and our commitment are inextricably linked.”
“We will remain the greatest force in the world as we strive to take better care of our people,” said Austin. “Our values and expectations remain at the core of solving this problem and I am confident that our armed forces will get this right.”