Originally Published: 28 JUL 23 05:00 ET
By Donald Judd, CNN
(CNN) — President Joe Biden will sign an executive order Friday amending the Uniform Code of Military Justice by transferring key decision-making authorities outside the military chain of command in cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, murder and other serious crimes.
According to a fact sheet shared with CNN previewing the executive order, the changes “represent the most significant transformation of the military justice system since the UCMJ was established in 1950.” Key among them is the establishment of rules to govern the newly formed Offices of Special Trial Counsel (OSTC) which, composed of a panel of independent military prosecutors, would make prosecutorial decisions involving sexual assault and other violent crimes.
The executive order will officially implement changes passed by Congress as part of fiscal year 2022’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and comes two years after an independent review commission on sexual assault in the military, formed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, published recommendations to move prosecution of sexual assault in the military outside the military chain of command.
On a call with reporters previewing the executive order, a senior administration official called the move “a turning point for survivors of gender-based violence in the military.”
“These changes follow decades tireless efforts by survivors, advocates and members of Congress to strengthen the military justice systems response to gender-based violence,” the official said. “As Secretary Austin has said many times, this is a leadership issue, and we believe this historic order demonstrates that leadership.”
In addition to formalizing the rules governing the OSTC, Friday’s executive order will also establish prosecutorial decisions made by special trial counsel as wholly independent from the chain of command; update procedures the administration says will ensure protections for victims before, during, and after court martial proceedings; and alter the court-martial sentencing system to “promote uniformity and fairness.”
“What this executive order does is it really creates the rules of the road for an absolutely brand-new class of independent military prosecutors, and creates the independent authority and the command reporting structure of the Offices of Special Trial Counsel, that very importantly – and this was in the 22 NDAA – will report without intervening authorities directly to the civilian service secretaries of each military service,” a second official said Thursday.
Under the 2022 NDAA, the new changes are set to take effect by December 27, 2023 – but, per the administration official, the OSTC has already been established within the Department of Defense and is in the process of staffing up.
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