Last month, I asked the Department of Defense’s Office of General Counsel to review Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) after a commander dismissed an Air Force officer’s court-martial conviction for sexual assault, using the authority provided by Article 60.
That review, conducted in conjunction with military justice experts in the military services, the judge advocates general of the military departments, the service secretaries and service chiefs, is now complete. Today I am directing the Office of General Counsel to prepare legislation for Congress to amend Article 60 in two ways:
First, eliminating the discretion for a convening authority to change the findings of a court-martial, except for certain minor offenses that would not ordinarily warrant trial by court-martial. While convening authorities would no longer have the ability to dismiss charges for serious offenses like sexual assault, defendants would continue to have access to a robust system of appeal rights.
Second, requiring the convening authority to explain in writing any changes made to court-martial sentences, as well as any changes to findings involving minor offenses. The intent is to ensure that convening authorities are required to justify -- in an open, transparent, and recorded manner -- any decision to modify a court martial sentence.
These changes, if enacted by Congress, would help ensure that our military justice system works fairly, ensures due process, and is accountable. These changes would increase the confidence of service members and the public that the military justice system will do justice in every case. The changes have the full support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service secretaries. I look forward to working with Congress on these proposals and others to improve accountability for these crimes.
Despite the attention and efforts of senior leaders throughout the Department of Defense, it is clear the department still has much more work to do to fully address the problem of sexual assault in the ranks. This crime is damaging this institution. There are thousands of victims in the department, male and female, whose lives and careers have been upended, and that is unacceptable. The current situation should offend every single service member and civilian who, like me, is proud of their association with the United States military.
I am currently reviewing other options and actions to strengthen the department’s prevention and response efforts, and will announce those decisions and actions soon. Consistent with the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, I will soon be naming individuals to sit on independent panels to review and assess the systems used to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate crimes involving sexual assault, and judicial proceedings of sexual assault cases. I will closely review their recommendations when complete.
I am committed to implementing measures that bring about tangible change and real results. Addressing the problem of sexual assault will remain a top priority for the department’s leaders for as long as this crime continues to hurt our people and weaken the force.
Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Initiatives can be found at: http://www.defense.gov/news/DoDSexualAssaultPreventionandResponseInitiatives.pdf