WASHINGTON — A key military justice overhaul provision has been removed from the annual defense bill.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) authored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which would have entirely removed military commanders from the chain of command in sexual assault cases, replacing them with independent military special victims prosecutors.
But a new, watered-down version still allows commanders to conduct the trials, pick jury members, approve witnesses, and grant immunity.
The compromise also allows commanders to keep the power to allow defendants accused of crimes the option of separation from service instead of facing court-martial.
Gillibrand said Congressional leaders had "gutted" her bill and delivered "a major setback" to troops.
"This bill does not reform the military justice system in a way that will truly help survivors get justice," she said during a news conference on Wednesday.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia) said the more expansive overhaul was needed.
"I think the military made some improvements, but we still saw a disproportionate number of particularly sexual assaults that weren't being handled I think in an appropriate way," he said.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) said he, too, was disappointed.
"I am a strong supporter of the Gillibrand version which would take out of the chain of command in the investigation and prosecution of serious crimes," he said.
Kaine said he was also disappointed that his amendment repealing the 1991 and 2002 Authorization For Use Of Military Force was also removed from the NDAA.
He said he will continue to fight for it.