When a series of high-profile military sexual assault cases attracted national attention last year, Congress established a panel to conduct an independent review of Department of Defense (DoD) systems used to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate allegations of sexual assault in the military. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel named Interim Dean James W. Houck to the panel, which also included Chair and Judge Barbara Jones (retired) of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and former U.S. Representative Elizabeth Holtzman.
The panel published its final report on June 27, 2014, after hearing from over 600 witnesses, including Senators Kristen Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill. Panelists and subcommittees held 79 days of meetings before arriving at 132 recommendations. The recommendations focus on the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of sexual assault as well as victim services; victim rights; and the role of the commander in the military justice process.
Among its recommendations, the panel concluded (with two members dissenting) that Congress should not further limit the authority of convening authorities under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to refer charges for sexual assault crimes to trial by court-martial beyond recent amendments to the UCMJ and DoD policy.
After reviewing the practices of Allied militaries and available civilian statistics, and hearing from many witnesses, the panel determined the evidence does not support a conclusion that removing convening authority from senior commanders will reduce the incidence of sexual assault, increase reporting of sexual assaults, or improve the quality of investigations and prosecutions of sexual assault cases in the Armed Forces. In addition, proposals for systemic changes to the military justice system should be considered carefully in the context of the many changes that have recently been made to the form and function of the military justice system.
The numerous and substantive changes recently enacted require time to be implemented and then assessed prior to enacting additional reforms.
The full report is available online.