Gillibrand, bipartisan lawmakers push to keep military justice overhaul in NDAA

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday led dozens of bipartisan lawmakers in a push to ensure that a military justice overhaul measure stays in the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

In a letter to leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees, the lawmakers asked that the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act stays in the final version of the bill.

"Sexual assault in the military is a serious concern and demands a real solution, not a watered-down provision slipped in the final bill behind closed doors," reads the letter.

"This provision is the only reform that will provide true independence for prosecutors in the military justice system and is essential to ensure that victims, accused, and the public all have full faith and confidence in the military justice process," the letter continues.

The letter - which was signed by 44 senators and 22 representatives - comes as the upper chamber scrambles to pass the NDAA amid a stalemate over allowing votes on amendments in the bill.   

Gillibrand's measure was included in the version of the NDAA that the Senate Armed Services Committee passed earlier this year unsuccessfully trying to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. It seeks to remove the prosecution of all major crimes like sexual assault and murder from the chain of command to independent prosecutors.

The House version of the bill passed in September similarly includes a measure removing the decision to prosecute sexual assault and related crimes to special victims prosecutors, though it doesn't go as far as Gillibrand's measure.  

Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he supports removing decisions on prosecuting sexual assault cases from military commanders.

In their letter, the lawmakers noted that military justice has been "plaguing the military for decades, despite countless congressional mandates, $1 billion of funding, and promises from leadership that they would address it."

"Our service members do not have years or decades more to wait for the DoD to solve this problem," the lawmakers said. "We must act with an urgency that meets this moment and urge you to ensure the NDAA provides true independence for prosecutors in the military justice system and covers all major offenses in the [Unified Code of Military Justice]."