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.