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Biden backs removing assault prosecution from US military chain of command

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WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 02: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks during a naturalization ceremony in the East Room of the White House on July 02, 2021 in Washington, DC. Twenty-one people were sworn in as naturalized citizens during the ceremony. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by CHIP SOMODEVILLA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)


US President Joe Biden on Friday endorsed removing the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases in the armed forces from the military chain of command.

The recommendation was one of the chief proposals made by an independent commission set up by Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin to look into the handling of sexual assault in the military.

Austin said he would work with Congress to amend military justice laws and remove the prosecution of cases of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse from the military chain of command.

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Dedicated offices in each military department would be created to handle the prosecution of such cases, the defense secretary said.

Currently, commanders are responsible for the investigation and prosecution of crimes allegedly committed by their subordinates, a system critics say often presents conflicts of interest and other issues.

The proposed changes were an “overdue step in the right direction”, Biden said.

“We need concrete actions that fundamentally change the way we handle military sexual assault and that make it clear that these crimes will not be minimized or dismissed,” he said in a statement.

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“I look forward to working with Congress to implement these necessary reforms and promote a work environment that is free from sexual assault and harassment for every one of our brave service members.”

More than a dozen commanders and unit leaders were sacked in 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 army soldier who was murdered by a fellow soldier after being sexually harassed and telling her family she did not trust the military command to follow up on her complaint.

According to the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, there were 7,816 sexual assault complaints in the armed forces in 2020, a slight fall from the record 7,825 of 2019.

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Joe BidenLloyd Austin
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