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Biden backs Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin effort to remove sex assault cases from military chain of command

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US President Joe Biden listens as US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, on Wednesday, February 10, 2021.

Michael Reynolds | Acesparks | Getty Images

President Joe Biden said Friday he “strongly” supports Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s decision to pressure Congress to shift the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases in the military from command of the armed forces.

“We need concrete action that fundamentally changes the way the military handles sexual assault and makes it clear that these crimes will not be reduced or dismissed,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House.

Austin said on Friday that he had accepted the main recommendations Independent Review Commission on Military Sexual Assault.

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The Pentagon chief said he is directing the Defense Department to work with Congress to amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice to remove prosecution of sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and retaliation from the military chain .

Austin also said that the department would seek to add sexual harassment as a crime at the UCMJ.

And the department will demand the creation of dedicated offices within each military department’s secretariat to handle prosecutions of crimes “with appropriate legal oversight and guidance” from the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

The directive is less comprehensive than the bill being pushed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D.N.Y. In which independent military prosecutors – not military commanders – would handle all crimes involving the military, not just those involving sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.

“Our most important asset as a department is our people, and our people and readiness are inextricably linked,” Austin said in his directive.

“We will continue to be the leading fighting force in the world as we strive to better care for our people,” Austin said. “Our values ​​and expectations are at the core of the solution to this problem and I am confident that our military will get that right.”

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