Hagel Wants to Take Power to Overturn Court-Martial Out of Commanders' Hands

"Second, requiring the convening authority to explain in writing any changes made to court-martial sentences, as well as any changes to findings involving minor offenses. The intent is to ensure that convening authorities are required to justify -- in an open, transparent, and recorded manner -- any decision to modify a court martial sentence," Hagel continued. "…I look forward to working with Congress on these proposals and others to improve accountability for these crimes."

Boxer lauded the announcement as a pledge kept by the new Defense secretary.

“I am grateful that Secretary Hagel has lived up to his promise to seriously address the epidemic of sexual assault in our Armed Forces,” she said. “This is the beginning of a long process to ensure that victims of military sexual assault—whether they are women or men—get justice."

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) noted Hagel's proposal mirrors the legislation she introduced last month in response to the Wilkerson case, and her office tweeted that Hagel's announcement "endorses" McCaskill's changes.

But a spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee said Hagel ignored a mid-March bipartisan request for a briefing on the convening authority’s power in the case and proposed reforms.

"Instead, once again, they rushed to provide the press an extensive briefing on the issue, but none to Chairman [Buck] McKeon, members or staff of the Armed Services Committee," said Claude Chafin. "This, despite a bipartisan letter from the chairman and other members sent to Secretary Hagel on March 12, asking for his views on the changes that should be made to Article 60 of the UCMJ."

"Chairman McKeon sees eye-to-eye with Secretary Hagel on much of his reform agenda. The prospects for success would be much improved if members and staff learned of important policy developments from senior commanders or DoD officials, not the press," Chafin continued.

"Reporters have now had an opportunity to question senior defense officials about this important legislative proposal; members of this committee are still waiting for their chance."

The committee had sought "an analysis of the underlying rationale for the convening authority's role and responsibilities in the UCMJ," a summary of times that authority has been exerted since 2008, and an analysis of how other military justice systems address the role of the convening authority in courts-martial.

"What changes, if any, should be made to Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice?" committee Republicans and Democrats asked.

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with Hagel for a closed-door meeting in the Oval Office tomorrow.

Hagel added today that sexual assault "is damaging this institution."

"I am currently reviewing other options and actions to strengthen the department's prevention and response efforts, and will announce those decisions and actions soon. Consistent with the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, I will soon be naming individuals to sit on independent panels to review and assess the systems used to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate crimes involving sexual assault, and judicial proceedings of sexual assault cases," he said. "I will closely review their recommendations when complete."