(CTN News) – Joe Biden will sign an executive order Friday amending the Uniform Code of US Military Justice by transferring key decision-making authority outside the military chain of command in cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, murder, etc.
According to a CNN fact sheet previewing the executive order, the changes are the biggest overhaul of the US military justice system since 1950.
Among them is the creation of rules governing the newly formed Offices of Special Trial Counsel (OSTC), a panel of independent military prosecutors who will make prosecutorial decisions about violent crimes like sexual assault.
The executive order will officially implement changes passed by Congress as part of fiscal year 2022’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It comes after two years when a Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin-led commission published recommendations for removing sexual assault prosecution from the chain of command.
A White House official says Biden will sign the order Friday morning before leaving for Maine. Text of the executive order will be on whitehouse.gov, and full changes to the Manual for Courts-Martial will be in the Federal Register in a few days.
In a call with reporters, a senior administration official called it “a turning point for survivors of gender-based violence in the military.”
“Survivors, advocates, and members of Congress have worked tirelessly for decades to strengthen the military justice system’s response to gender-based violence,” the official said. Secretary Austin said this is a leadership issue, and this historic order shows that.”
Besides formalizing the OSTC rules, Friday’s executive order establishes special trial counsel’s prosecutorial decisions as independent of the chain of command, updates procedures to protect victims before, during, and after a court-martial, and changes the court-martial sentencing system so it’s “fair and uniform”..”
“In other words, it creates the rules of the road for an entirely new class of independent military prosecutors, and it makes the Offices of Special Trial Counsel independent, with a command reporting structure, and they’ll report directly to the civilian service secretaries of each military service without intervening authorities,” another official said Thursday.
The new changes are due to take effect by December 27, 2023, under the 2022 NDAA – but the OSTC is already staffing up at the Department of Defense.