Pentagon launches review of military justice system

The Pentagon is launching a review of its entire military justice system.

The decision comes after heavy pressure from lawmakers on the Pentagon’s handling of sexual assault.

“It has been more than 30 years since the department has undertaken to examine and update the UCMJ in a systematic fashion,” said Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelOvernight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces Five takeaways from Pentagon chief's first major trip Esper given horse in Mongolia as US looks for new inroads against China MORE in a statement on Tuesday. 

The Pentagon said the review will go beyond the issue of sexual assault.

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“Sexual assault will certainly be part of the compendium of issues that will be looked at, but it's by no means the sole issue,” Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale told the Los Angeles Times.

A review panel will be led by Andrew Effron, the recently retired chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, and will include lawyers from all the military services. 

A conservative U.S. Court of Appeals judge, David Sentelle, and a former Pentagon general counsel under President Clinton, Judith Miller, will serve as advisers.

Sens. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillEx-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (D-Mo.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandSenate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill Sanders unveils plan to double union membership in first term The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden expands lead in new national poll MORE (D-N.Y.) have led a high-profile effort to reform the military justice system, and have pushed through a number of proposals to strengthen support for victims. 

But the two clashed over Gillibrand’s bill, which would have taken decisions on sexual assault cases away from the military’s chain of command. Her bill to implement this change failed to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a Senate filibuster.

Under current law, a commander at a colonel or captain level would decide how to handle the report of sexual assault. Critics say this allows commanders to be lenient, or decide not to pursue cases out of fear it would reflect badly on their leadership.  

Pentagon officials, as well as McCaskill, argue that commanders play a crucial role in enforcing good order and discipline within their chain of command and need to be responsible for their command climates. 

Gillibrand criticized the Pentagon’s review, saying the panel would take a year and a half to complete its work. 

“We can do review after review after review — and I have no doubt they are all well-intentioned,” she said in a statement according to the Los Angeles Times

“But according to the DOD's latest available numbers, 18 months is another estimated 39,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact that will occur,” she said.