Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Rebecca Kheel, 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: More momentum is building toward a major change in how the military justice system handles sexual assault cases.
Monday’s development was a big one: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Staff Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyAfghan troops could face ‘bad possible outcomes,’ US commander says North Korean official says Biden’s comments on country are ‘hostile policy’ Biden administration finishes North Korea policy review MORE is no longer objecting to taking the decision to prosecute sexual assault out of the chain of command.
In an interview with the Associated Press and CNN published Monday, Milley stopped short of endorsing a recommendation made by an independent review panel to take such decisions away from commanders. But he said he is open to considering it.
“I was adamantly opposed to that for years,” Milley said. “But I haven’t seen the needle move.”
“We’ve been at it for years, and we haven’t effectively moved the needle,” he added. “We have to. We must.”
Loss of confidence: Milley also said he has changed his mind in part to concerns that junior enlisted service members had lost confidence in the fairness of sexual assault case outcomes and thus lost confidence in the chain of command.
“That’s really bad for our military if that’s true, and survey and the evidence indicate it is true,” he 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.”
What it matters: The stance marks a major shift for Milley, who is the senior-most uniformed official to comment on the proposed move and is the top military adviser to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and President Biden, who have both pledged to quell the persistent problem of sexual assault in the ranks.
Milley for years opposed taking the decision out of the commanders’ hands, arguing it would create a breakdown in unit cohesion.
But after years of little change in the military coupled with a renewed pressure from the administration and from Congress to tackle the issue, perspectives have begun to shift.
What’s next: Austin is in the midst of reviewing the review panel’s recommendation, which specifically called for designating independent judge advocates to decide whether to charge someone in certain cases of special victims crimes including sexual assault and sexual harassment.
Austin has not publicly commented on the review commission’s proposals, but is expected to make a decision on them in roughly a month as service leaders are taking that time to review and respond to the suggestions.
Congress may yet force the Pentagon’s hand. As noted in this newsletter last week, Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandBiden’s poor TV ratings against Trump is exactly what this administration wants Mullen now supports removing commanders from sexual assault prosecutions Overnight Defense: Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform | US troops begin leaving Afghanistan | Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill MORE’s (D-N.Y.) bill on the issue got its own burst of momentum last week when some senators who previously opposed the bill signed on as co-sponsors.
SUPREME COURT DECLINE TO HEAR WEST POINT RAPE CASE
In other news related to military sexual assault, the Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a lawsuit from a former West Point cadet who alleges she was raped on campus and that the academy failed to address its “pervasive and well-known culture of sexual violence.”
The case was the latest attempt to revisit the so-called Feres doctrine that restricts…