OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Lawmakers seek changes to military code

They are reacting to a case from Aviano Air Base in Italy in which Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin threw out a guilty verdict against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, who was facing one year in prison and dismissal from the Air Force.

The group of lawmakers calling for changes includes Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who each introduced legislation this week on the issue, and Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio).

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But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), an Air Force prosecutor, rejected the notion that the military should be making changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Graham said that the stories victims told at Wednesday’s hearing were troubling, and said they made clear more needed to be done to address sexual assaults in the military.

But he did not agree the answer was changing rules of a convening authority, which has the ability to review and dismiss military cases after they are completed. Graham asked the military lawyers whether a convening authority is still viable today, and all said it was.

That answer sparked Gillibrand to say she was “extremely disturbed,” and she pressed Air Force Lt. Gen. Richard Harding to say whether “justice was done.”

“I'm not going to conclude that justice was or was not done. What I will conclude is that all parties did their job,” Harding said.

“Well, one of the parties was wrong,” Gillibrand responded. “And if you are the victim in that case, to have gone through eight months of testimony, of providing evidence — I can assure you she did not believe justice was done.”

DOD eyes 'gentle' drawdown in Afghanistan: For all of the administration's talk of an accelerated drawdown in Afghanistan, U.S. field commanders in the southern part of the country are anticipating a gentler withdrawal from the region. 

"Commensurate with our troop strength, there will be a gentle reduction" in American air support and artillery units in southern Afghanistan, as well as teams that uncover and clear improvised explosive devices, to allow Afghan forces to pick up those missions, Maj. Gen. Robert Abrams told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday. 

Abrams, who heads Regional Command-South, noted those units will not completely disappear from the battlefield, "but it'll be an overall reduction of our force over time."

American war planners also anticipate thinning out the number of U.S. military teams specifically assigned to train and advise members of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in southern Afghanistan and elsewhere, according to Abrams. 

That reduction, the two-star general said, is doable because U.S. commanders anticipate more ANSF units being able to operate independently from their American advisers. 

But as that final drawdown begins, Abrams pointed out that U.S. commanders will retain critical infrastructure and personnel needed to move the mountain of weapons and equipment out of the country. 

"We're not going to thin out our ability to conduct transportation operations," Abrams said. "They're going to be absolutely essential as we close or transfer our bases and retrograde our equipment back" to the United States. 

McCain Guam CR amendment approved: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was successful in his bid to strip the Senate’s funding measure of $140 million to projects in Guam.

The Senate approved his amendment by voice vote Wednesday after Democrats failed to table the amendment, 48-50.

McCain said he wanted to strip out the “earmarks” to Guam because Congress has not yet received a cost analysis on moving troops from Okinawa to Guam, which the Defense authorization bill required before providing Guam infrastructure money.

“At a time when the Department of Defense is facing sequestration, it’s appalling and disgraceful that the bill would be in direct contradiction with the authorizers,” McCain said Wednesday

Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) told Guam’s Pacific Daily News that McCain “lacks a sense of history" for opposing the Guam projects.

Biden, Dempsey welcome Hagel to DOD: After two weeks on the job, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will be sworn in as the Pentagon chief during a ceremony at DOD on Thursday. 

Tomorrow's event, hosted by Vice President Biden and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, will be the defense chief's ceremonial welcome to the Pentagon. Hagel officially took office on February 27. 

Since then, Hagel has had an eventful two weeks assuming control of the Defense Department. 

Under his brief watch, Hagel has taken the reins of the department's efforts to cope with the $500 billion in automatic cuts under the White House's sequestration plan. Hagel and Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter unveiled those sequestration plans, which include thousands of furloughs of DOD's civilian workers and cuts to military benefits. 

The new defense chief also made his first trip to Afghanistan, which began with a suicide bombing at the Ministry of Defense in Kabul where Hagel was meeting with his Afghan counterparts. 

The trip ended with an insider attack in nearby Wardak province, which ended with the death of two U.S. special forces soldiers. 

This week, Hagel launched a review of the department's new combat medal specifically for the military's growing cadre of drone pilots and cyberwarriors. 

The 30-day review by Dempsey and the Joint Staff will re-examine whether the Distinguished Warfare Medal should rank above the Silver Star and Purple Heart in the hierarchy of battlefield commendations. 


In Case You Missed It: 

— US provides millions in aid to Syrian rebels 

— Congress presses for changes in military courts

— McCain, Coburn outline problems in spending bill

'Gentle' reductions of US forces seen in southern Afghanistan


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