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US defense chief favors reform in trials for military sex crimes

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he favors amending the Pentagon’s justice system to remove decisions about prosecuting sexual assault from the military chain of command.

The Pentagon chief had appointed an independent commission to submit recommendations as to how best to deal with perpetrators of sexual violence in the armed forces, and how to prosecute them more effectively.

He said in a statement he had received the recommendations of the panel and pledged to “work with Congress to amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice, removing the prosecution of sexual assaults and related crimes from the military chain of command.”

The commission recommended including other related crimes such as domestic violence among those that would be removed from the chain’s purview.

“I support this as well, given the strong correlation between these sorts of crimes and the prevalence of sexual assault,” Austin said.

More than a dozen commanders and unit leaders were sacked last December after a series of murders and sex crimes at a major US military base. Among the victims was Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old soldier who disappeared on April 22 after being sexually harassed.

Guillen had told her family that she did not trust the military command to follow up on her sexual harassment complaint, and her relatives publicly cast doubt on the military’s resolve to investigate her disappearance, until her dismembered body was finally discovered on June 30. 

The Pentagon has since been called upon to remove any decisions about prosecuting sex crimes from the chain of command, but the military has so far resisted, citing the need to maintain control over discipline in the ranks. 

Topics: Lloyd Austin , Pentagon , justice system , sexual assaults , Uniform Code of Military Justice
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