Milley drops objection to change in military's sexual assault policy

Milley drops objection to change in military's sexual assault policy
© Greg Nash

The top U.S. general is dropping his objection to a proposal to take decisions on whether to prosecute sexual assault out of the chain of command.  

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyAustin misses an opportunity in Singapore but scores big in Philippines Overnight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it Watchdog warns US will repeat mistakes of Afghanistan MORE did not endorse the recommendation made by an independent review panel to remove such decisions from commanders, but is open to considering it, according to an interview he gave to The Associated Press and CNN.

“I was adamantly opposed to that for years,” Milley said in a Sunday interview. “But I haven’t seen the needle move.”

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“We’ve been at it for years, and we haven’t effectively moved the needle,” he said. “We have to. We must.”

The stance marks a major shift for Milley, who is the most senior uniformed official to comment on the proposed move and is the top military adviser to Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense: Police officer killed in violence outside Pentagon | Biden officials back repeal of Iraq War authorization | NSC pushed to oversee 'Havana Syndrome' response One officer dead after violent incident outside Pentagon Austin misses an opportunity in Singapore but scores big in Philippines MORE and President BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries FDA aims to give full approval to Pfizer vaccine by Labor Day: report Overnight Defense: Police officer killed in violence outside Pentagon | Biden officials back repeal of Iraq War authorization | NSC pushed to oversee 'Havana Syndrome' response MORE, who have both pledged to quell the persistent problem of sexual assault in the ranks.

Milley for years opposed taking the decision out of the commanders' hands, arguing it would create a breakdown in unit cohesion.

But after years of little change in the military coupled with a renewed pressure from the administration and from Congress to tackle the issue, perspectives have begun to shift.

Austin last week was given the recommendation to designate independent judge advocates, who would report to a civilian-led Office of the Chief Special Victim Prosecutor, to decide whether to charge someone in certain cases of special victims crimes including sexual assault and sexual harassment.

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The panel also advised that sexual harassment claims be looked into by those outside the chain of command.

Austin has not publicly commented on the review commission’s proposals, but is expected to make a decision on them in roughly a month as service leaders are taking that time to review and respond to the suggestions.  

Milley also said he has changed his mind due in part to concerns that junior enlisted service members had lost confidence in the fairness of sexual assault case outcomes and thus lost confidence in the chain of command.

“That’s really bad for our military if that’s true, and survey and the evidence indicate it is true,” he said. “That’s a really bad situation if the enlisted force — the junior enlisted force — lacks confidence in their chain of command to be able to effectively deal with the issue of sexual assault.”