WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, for the first time, said Tuesday he will support long-debated changes to the military justice system that would remove decisions on prosecuting sexual assault cases from military commanders.
In a statement, obtained by The Associated Press, Austin said he supports taking those sexual assault and related crimes away from the chain of command, and let independent military lawyers handle them. The Pentagon has long resisted such a change, but Austin and other senior leaders are slowly acknowledging that the military has failed to make progress against sexual assault, and some changes are needed.
The statement came a day before Austin testifies to the House Armed Services Committee amid escalating pressure from Congress to take concrete steps to address sexual assault. Austin’s memo, however, does not express any view on legislation that would make broader changes to the military justice system and require that independent lawyers handle all major crimes.