Washington, DC – Today, Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA), Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, and Representative Michael R. Turner (R-OH), Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, introduced the Vanessa Guillén Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act – a bipartisan bill designed to move prosecutorial authority regarding serious crimes outside of the chain of command. The bill mirrors Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)’s bipartisan Military Justice Improvement And Increasing Prevention Act (MJIIPA) in the Senate, where a filibuster-proof majority has given their support. Both bills would give prosecutorial authority to independent prosecutors for sexual assault cases and other felonious crimes.
Col. Don Christensen (ret.), the former Chief Prosecutor of the United States Air Force and President of Protect Our Defenders, released the following statement:
“Representative Speier was the first line of support in Congress for military sexual assault survivors and an ally to our servicemembers before the issue of military sexual assault ever entered the national spotlight. She has been absolutely instrumental in the fight to address the military’s sexual assault epidemic and reform the flawed military justice system in order to protect servicemembers. The introduction of her transformative legislation today is another critical step forward in pursuit of justice – and one that will help solidify bipartisan support for real reform across both the House and the Senate.
“After decades of fighting back against any type of reform, despite an egregious and ongoing sexual assault epidemic, military leadership knows that it has lost on the issue of sexual assault. What we’re seeing right now is their attempt to not cede any more ground, but the military’s culture of abuse includes racial discrimination, violence, and more. Leaving serious crimes within the chain of command is a surefire way to ensure that abuse continues. How long are we going to let our servicemembers suffer while the military does nothing to change?
“Senators Reed and Inhofe have no excuse. They need to get on the right side of history and stop stonewalling common sense legislation that would help recruitment and retention, while ensuring those who serve our country finally have a justice system that is actually just.”
The introduction of Representative Speier’s bill comes at a critical time for military justice reform, as key holdouts look to halt the transformative legislation. Despite overwhelming bipartisan support, Senator Reed and Inhofe are blocking the MJIIPA because they claim serious felonies should stay within the chain of command. Most recently, Senator Inhofe released letters from top military officials citing “concerns” with the MJIIPA in a bid to stall the bill.
In addition to a pervasive culture of sexual assault, the current system promotes a culture of racial discrimination and is a violation of servicemembers civil liberties. The recent Protect Our Defenders (POD) 2020 racial disparity report revealed that Black servicemembers are substantially more likely than White servicemembers to face military justice or disciplinary action, and that the Air Force actively covered up data on racial discrimination for years. Moreover, the tragic murder of Vanessa Guillén – which inspired Representative Speier’s bill – was the result of a system of violence and abuse at Fort Hood, maintained by the chain of command, that left multiple servicemembers dead. President Biden has been crystal clear on the need to empower independent military prosecutors to address the crisis.
Speier and Turner were joined by House co-leads – Representatives Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Trent Kelly (R-MS), Anthony G. Brown (D-MD), and Elaine Luria (D-VA) – Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel.