Senator Gillibrand celebrates ‘historic’ military justice reforms under defensive authorization bill

Published: Dec. 7, 2022 at 5:02 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - For more than ten years, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has been fighting for change in the way sex crimes in the military are investigated, wanting to take the investigation out of the chain of command.

She said Wednesday, that goal has been met.

“This is a historic milestone in our efforts to reform and professionalize the military justice system,” Gillibrand said.

The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA removes all judicial functions and prosecutorial duties from commanders for thirteen covered offenses like sexual assault and murder. It will go to an independent prosecutor.

While stripped of several duties related to the military justice system, the 2022 NDAA still allowed commanders to approve witnesses, decide if cases can be dismissed, and negotiate a settlement. Essentially doing the job of a judge and a lawyer, without being either.

“Commanders still had a significant prosecutorial and judicial power, making the system susceptible to bias, and undermining trust,” she said.

Gillibrand looked at the case of Vanessa Guillen as a prime example of the flawed system.

Guillen, a Specialist on Fort Hood, was killed by a fellow soldier in 2020. She had also been a victim of sexual harassment. An investigation found the command climate had “major flaws” and was “permissive of sexual harassment and assault.”

“When she went missing, her family said ‘You need to investigate harassment. Somebody was harassing her. She was deeply depressed, deeply upset, you need to do this,’ and they refused,” Gillibrand said.

When asked what this means for soldiers on Fort Drum, Gillibrand said, “They now have a system of justice that is worthy of their sacrifice. That we now have a system of justice that is independent, that is transparent, and accountable.”

Gillibrand says she will continue to fight for all felonies to be covered by these reforms. The bill is expected to come to a vote later this month.