Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he is willing to consider a proposal that would remove military commanders from the decision-making process in sexual assault prosecutions.
Milley’s stance could signal a reversal in longstanding policy at the Pentagon. The chairman did not formally endorse the proposal but said he was open to changes because previous efforts to address sexual assault within the military had proven ineffective.
“We’ve been at it for years, and we haven’t effectively moved the needle,” Milley said. “We have to. We must.”
An independent review commission submitted a number of recommendations to the Pentagon last month aimed at addressing sexual assault cases. The panel suggested that sexual assault cases should be referred to designated independent judge advocates reporting to the civilian-led office of the Chief Special Victim Prosecutor.
The office would determine if charges were warranted and whether the case should proceed to a court-martial. The system would apply to cases of alleged sexual assault or harassment as well as certain hate crimes.
Reported cases involving sexual assault have increased since 2006, according to Pentagon data. Case totals rose 13% in 2018 and 3% in 2019.
Milley said his view of the situation has changed because internal data suggested that junior military members lacked confidence in the Pentagon’s handling of cases involving sexual assault.
“That’s really bad for our military if that’s true, and survey and the evidence indicate it is true,” Milley 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.”
Milley is a senior adviser to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who has yet to comment on the panel’s proposed change.
Earlier in the day, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas dissented to the court’s decision not to hear a case involving an allegation of rape at West Point. He argued the decision was based on a precedent that was “demonstrably wrong” and that members of the military should be allowed to sue the federal government.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.