Hagel attends first panel reviewing Pentagon sexual assault policies

Congress established the sexual assault panel in last year’s defense authorization bill, asking for it to determine how the Pentagon can curb the number of sexual assaults in the military.

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This year, the panel’s role has taken on a new urgency after lawmakers were outraged by a number of sexual assault incidents and a Pentagon report estimating there were 26,000 cases of “unwanted sexual contact.”

Hagel asked the board to issue its report with the next year — six months quicker than the timeline it was given in the authorization bill.

The panel is expected to tackle issues like the effect of the chain of command on sexual assault cases, something that has received intense debate in Congress.

Many opponents of overhauling the military’s judicial code have said they wanted to wait until the panel had reached its conclusions before making major legal changes.

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted down a proposal from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would have removed the decision to prosecute cases from commanders, instead establishing a review system that includes the service secretaries.

Both the bill that passed the full House and the Senate panel’s legislation stripped commanders’ ability to overturn guilty verdicts in most criminal cases.