Military Justice Improvement Act: DACOWITS

Military Justice Improvement Act: DACOWITS Hearing 

“And this — this board was — was empanelled in 1951. And it’s gone through ups and downs in how the secretaries have used it. But I have put a premium on that advisory board.” – Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel (October 12, 2013)

September 27, 2013: DOD Advisory Committee Voted in Favor of Gillibrand Approach Without a Single Vote Against — DACOWITS Committee Is Composed Of Civilian And Retired Military Women And Men Appointed By The Secretary Of Defense To Provide Advice And Recommendations On Policies For Military Women

On 9/27/13, the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) voted overwhelmingly in support of removing the decision whether to prosecute sexual assaults and other serious crimes from the chain of command, the goals of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act Amendment. Ten members voted in support of the measure, six abstained to study further, and not a single member voted in opposition.

DACOWITS was created in 1951 by then Secretary of Defense, George C.  Marshall. The Committee is composed of civilian and retired military women and men who are appointed by the Secretary of Defense to provide advice and recommendations on matters and policies relating to the recruitment and retention, treatment, employment, integration, and well-being of highly qualified professional women in the Armed Forces. Historically, DACOWITS’ recommendations have been very instrumental in effecting changes to laws and policies pertaining to military women.

The text of the resolution passed by the committee reads:

Improving the Effectiveness of the Military Justice System in Handling Serious Crimes, including Sexual Assault

Recommendation: DoD should support legislation to remove from the chain of command the prosecution of military cases involving serious crimes, including sexual assault, except crimes that are uniquely military in nature.  Instead the decisions to prosecute, to determine the kind of court martial to convene, to detail the judges and members of the court martial, and to decide the extent of the punishment, should be placed in the hands of the military personnel with legal expertise and experience and who are outside the chain of command of the victim and the accused.         

Reasoning:  The persistent problem of sexual assault in the military continues to demand immediate and concentrated action.  DoD and the Services have placed a great deal of recent emphasis on finding different ways to prevent and respond to sexual assault, including by adopting some of DACOWITS’ recent recommendations.  However, the number of sexual assaults continues to increase, not decrease, and there is a huge disparity between DoD’s own estimates of the number of sexual assault incidents (26,000 in FY 2012) and the number of sexual assault reports (3,374 in FY 2012).  Victims have said that they do not come forward because they lack confidence in the system – they do not think  their complaints will get a fair and impartial hearing, they do not think perpetrators will be held accountable, and they fear that they will suffer reprisals. Unfortunately, recent events have shown these fears to be justified, and may also have communicated to perpetrators that they need not fear being held accountable for their actions. Under the current system, in which complaints are addressed within the chain of command, the commander has complete authority over the handling of cases, including whether to prosecute, whether to convene a court martial, who to name to the jury, and if and what kind of punishment is warranted.  Moreover, because a commander often supervises both the victim and the accused perpetrator, this decision-making poses an inherent conflict of interest.  To ensure the strong military justice system that is essential to preventing sexual assault and other serious crimes, DoD should support legislation to remove these decisions from the chain of command and make decision-making in the military justice system more independent and impartial.

Key Facts and Info

Read the Gillibrand Report of Four Largest U.S. Military Bases (2015): Documents Reveal Continued Lack of Improvement in Military Justice System

Read the Gillibrand Report of Four Largest U.S. Military Bases (2014)Despite Recent Congressional Reforms, Dysfunction In Military Justice System Remains

Read the Gillibrand Report of Four Largest U.S. Military Bases (2013): Nearly Half of Survivors Who Reported Assaults Dropped Out of Military Justice Process; Sexual Assaults More Prevalent Than Previously Acknowledged (pdf)

Read AP story: "Pentagon Misled Lawmakers on Military Sexual Assault Cases"

Read Human Rights Watch Report: U.S. Raped In Military - Then Punished: Unjust Discharges Cause Lasting Harm

Read "Embattled" the Human Rights Watch Report: Survivors 12x More Likely to Suffer Retaliation Than See Assailant Convicted; Not A Single Case of Serious Disciplinary Action Found for Retaliation (pdf)

NY Times Magazine Cover Story: "The Military's Rough Justice on Sexual Assault" on military’s continued failure to combat sexual assault – including accounts of retribution and retaliation

VIDEO: “Military Justice’s Dirty Secret”: Fmr. Chief Prosecutor USAF “Put Out to Pasture” for Speaking Out & Doing His Job

5/9/16 DOD IG Report: Evaluation of the Separation of Service Members Who Made a Report of Sexual Assault 

Quotes You Should Read

MJIA: Myths vs Facts sheet

12/3/2014: Top Reasons Why Military Justice Improvement Act Is Still Needed After Previous Incremental NDAA Reforms (pdf)

Senators Who Voted In Favor of MJIA

Retired Military Officers Supporting MJIA

Veterans', Faith, & Women's Groups Supporting MJIA

Letter from UCMJ legal experts supporting MJIA (pdf)

Editorials & Op-Eds Supporting MJIA

ESPN Report: The Enemy Within

Read DOD’s Own Advisory Panel Opinion in Support of MJIA

Allies Testimony: No Impact on Good Order & Discipline From Change To Independent Military Justice System

Gillibrand Testimony to Response Systems Panel

Text of Response Systems Panel Dissent (pdf)

List of Excluded Offenses

Useful Links

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Vietnam Veterans of America

Survivor Stories: 1 | 2

DOD Annual SAPR Reports

Defense Advisory Committee on Women

The Invisible War

“Twice Betrayed” Investigative Report

ESPN Report: The Enemy Within

Service Women’s Action Network

Protect Our Defenders