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Overnight Defense: Military sexual assault reform bill has votes to pass in Senate l First active duty service member arrested over Jan. 6 riot l Israeli troops attack Gaza Strip

Overnight Defense: Military sexual assault reform bill has votes to pass in Senate l First active duty service member arrested over Jan. 6 riot l Israeli troops attack Gaza Strip
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Happy Thursday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

 

THE TOPLINE: Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandCosmetic chemicals need a makeover Overnight Defense: Austin and Milley talk budget, Afghanistan, sexual assault and more at wide-ranging Senate hearing Top general: Military justice overhaul proposed by Gillibrand 'requires some detailed study' MORE’s (D-N.Y.) longtime push to overhaul how the military handles sexual assault cases has earned the support of 61 senators on both sides of the aisle.

The legislation, written by Gillibrand and Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstOvernight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US Meghan McCain: Harris 'sounded like a moron' discussing immigration Senate bill would add visas, remove hurdles to program for Afghans who helped US MORE (R-Iowa), would remove decisions about whether to prosecute sexual assault and several other serious crimes from the hands of military commanders; instead, specially-trained military prosecutors would decide.

The support means the bill, known as the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act, has reached enough votes to move forward after years of pushback from the Defense Department

A victory: Gillibrand called the backing of the 41 Democrats, 18 Republicans and two independents a “defining moment,” after trying for nearly a decade to gain such endorsement on similar bills that failed in the Senate by only a few votes. 

“We have secured the critical support needed to deliver justice to survivors of sexual assault and other serious crimes in our military,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “For decades, sexual assault in our military has been an uncontrolled epidemic hurting readiness, recruitment, and morale.

"This common sense legislation will ensure that the justice system works for all service members and enact measures to help prevent sexual assault across our armed forces," she added.

The background: The bill’s support comes after President BidenJoe BidenMellman: Trump voters cling to 2020 tale FDA authorizes another batch of J&J vaccine Cotton warns of China collecting athletes' DNA at 2022 Olympics MORE in March promised to "end the scourge of sexual assault" in the military. 

The commander in chief also ordered a civilian-led commission at the Pentagon to investigate the problem. The panel last month advised Defense Department leadership to follow the same lines as Gillibrand’s bill and designate independent judge advocates to decide whether to charge someone in certain cases of special victims crimes including sexual assault, sexual harassment and possibly certain hate crimes.

Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense: Top admiral shoots back at criticism of 'woke' military | Military guns go missing | New White House strategy to battle domestic extremism Top admiral shoots back at criticism of 'woke' military: 'We are not weak' Overnight Defense: Biden participates in NATO summit | White House backs 2002 AUMF repeal | Top general says no plans for airstrikes to help Afghan forces after withdrawal MORE, who has pledged to prioritize combating sexual assault and harassment in the services, is reviewing the recommendations and has indicated he is open to such changes.

Meanwhile, in the House: A similar bill in the House, known as the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act, was reintroduced Thursday by Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierDemocrats call on Blinken to set new sexual misconduct policies at State Department House lawmakers unveil bill to end ban on Postal Service shipments of alcohol Push to combat sexual assault in military reaches turning point MORE (D-Calif.) and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrat says he won't introduce resolution to censure Greene after her apology Democrats weigh next steps on Jan. 6 probe 21 Republicans vote against awarding medals to police who defended Capitol on Jan. 6 MORE (D-Calif.) at a news conference outside the Capitol building alongside Guillén’s family.

That bill — which also would take the decision on sexual assault and harassment charges from commanders — would make sexual harassment a stand-alone crime in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, create a confidential system to report sexual harassment and require the Government Accountability Office to study how different military branches handle missing service members.

The Pentagon’s most recent report on military sexual assault found that there were 7,825 reported cases during fiscal 2019, a little more than a 1 percent jump from the previous year.

Read more here.

 

FIRST ACTIVE DUTY SERVICE MEMBER ARRESTED OVER JAN. 6 RIOT

A Marine Corps officer was arrested Thursday over his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection, making him the first active-duty service member charged over the Capitol attack.

Details of the charge: The Justice Department said in a statement that Maj. Christopher Warnagiris, 40, “violently entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, after pushing through a line of police officers guarding the East Rotunda doors.”

He then allegedly used his body to prop a door open to allow more people to rush into the Capitol.

Warnagiris, of Woodbridge, Va., is stationed at Marine Corps Base Quantico. He is being charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers; obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder; and obstruction of justice, among other charges.

His military career: The Marine Corps confirmed that Warnagiris is an active-duty member. He joined the Marines in October 2002 and has deployed at least four times, including to Afghanistan and Iraq, according to his service records.

Warnagiris, whose specialty is as a field artillery officer, is currently assigned to the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Staff Training Program, which the Marines Corps website describes as training to “improve the warfighting skills of senior commanders and their staffs.”

His awards include three Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, a Meritorious Service Medal and a Defense Meritorious Service Medal, according to the records.

Marines speak out: "The Marine Corps is clear on this: There is no place for racial hatred or extremism in the Marine Corps," Maj. J.A. Hernandez, a spokesperson for the service, said in a statement. "Our strength is derived from the individual excellence of every Marine regardless of background. Bigotry and racial extremism run contrary to our core values.

"Participation with hate or extremist groups of any kind is directly contradictory to the core values of honor, courage, and commitment that we stand for as Marines and isn't tolerated by the Marine Corps," Hernandez added. "Those who can't value the contributions of others, regardless of background, are destructive to our culture, our warfighting ability, and have no place in our ranks."

But Pentagon largely keeps quiet: Pentagon press secretary John Kirby later on Thursday said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “is aware of the arrest of a Marine Corps officer in connection with the events of Jan. 6,” but because it is a “law enforcement matter” the department would not comment further.

Asked whether there was any investigation or inquiry into whether the Marine's fellow officers knew about his involvement in the insurrection, Kirby said he is unaware of any such investigation.

He also would not comment on any action the Pentagon might take with the individual under the U.S. Military Code of Justice (UMCJ).

"This is right now a federal law enforcement matter. That process needs to continue. At this stage, it’s too early to speculate about any UCMJ actions that may or may not be taken. Right now, this is squarely in the Justice Department lane and we’re going to respect that," Kirby said. 

Read more here.

 

ISRAEL, GAZA CONFLICT INTENSIFIES

Israeli troops entered the Gaza Strip on Thursday, marking a new level of conflict in the region amid days of escalating violence. 

The Israel Defense Force (IDF) tweeted about the operation Thursday EST, writing that "IDF air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip."

The lead up: The move follows days of scattered airstrikes and rocket barrages between Hamas and the Israeli military.

“There are ground troops attacking in Gaza, together with air forces, as well," an Israeli military spokesman told The New York Times.

Video of the attack shows the city's skyline lit up by consecutive bright explosions as Israeli warplanes roar

Violence has continued in Israel and the Gaza Strip for days amid Palestinian outrage over forced evictions of families in Jerusalem as well as airstrikes launched in retaliation for Hamas rocket attacks, which have killed three Israeli citizens and injured six more in recent days. More than 100 Palestinians had died in retaliatory airstrikes before Thursday's escalation, including more than two dozen children.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE warned earlier this week that Hamas militants and others would pay a "heavy price" for attacking his country.

US military personnel moved out: In the midst of the growing conflict, the Pentagon on Thursday confirmed reports that it pulled 120 U.S. military personnel from Israel.

Defense Department press secretary John Kirby said the U.S. Central Command and U.S. European Command staffers flew aboard a C-17 military aircraft and arrived in Ramstein Air Base in Germany earlier on Thursday.

“We made this decision to remove these individuals in coordination with our Israeli counterparts,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon.

The details: “These people from throughout the department were in Israel for a routine planning event” dealing with an upcoming military exercise, he added. 

The planning conference — a routine practice to work through the details of any major military exercise — was already scheduled to wrap up by the end of the week, but the Pentagon accelerated the staff’s departure by a few days.

“Out of an abundance of caution and good prudence ... we ended that planning conference a little early and got them safely to Germany," he said.

He was not aware of any other plans or efforts to further remove other Americans from Israel as of now.

Read more here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Atlantic Council will hold a webinar on “Transforming the British Army,” with Gen. Mark Carlton-Smith, chief of the general staff of the British army, at 9 a.m.

Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies will hold a webinar on “The Future of Afghanistan After U.S. Withdrawal,” with former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute, at 9 a.m. 

A House Armed Services subpanel will hold a hearing on “Operations in Cyberspace and building Cyber Capabilities Across the Department of Defense,” with Mieke Eoyang, deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy; and Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander, U.S. Cyber Command, director, National Security Agency, at 11 a.m. in Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. 

The Hudson Institute will hold the virtual event “A Conversation with David Albright,” with Albright, one of the few nuclear experts granted access to the Iranian Atomic Archive captured by Israel in 2018, at 12 p.m. 

 

ICYMI

— The Hill: US is leaving, but Afghan women to fight on for freedoms
 
— The Hill: Army secretary nominee concerned about 'unreasonable or unhelpful demands' on National Guard
 
— The Hill: Senate Democrats ramp up push to limit Biden's war powers
 
— The Hill: Biden faces pressure from all sides on Israel
 
— The Hill: Democrats, organizations push to end giving military-grade gear to police
 
— The Hill: Progressive groups call for Biden to denounce evictions of Palestinians as 'war crimes'
 
— The Hill: Biden signs executive order to improve federal cybersecurity
 
— Defense News: Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyGOP's Stefanik defends Trump DOJ secret subpoenas McCarthy pushes back on Biden criticism of GOP at NATO Democrat Matt Putorti challenges Stefanik for NY House seat MORE: Republicans have a ‘red line’ on Biden’s defense budget
 
— The Associated Press: Officials: Tiny uptick in 2020 military sex assault reports