Col. Robert Rodrigues, center, Acting Lead Special Trial Counsel, drives the newest organization to improve U.S. Army justice, as the most serious allegations are moved away from the chain of command, to independent prosecutors. The new Fort Belvoir headquarters has 8 mid-level headquarters and 26 field offices around the Army and is the biggest change to military jurisprudence since the adoption of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 1950.

Office of Special Trial Counsel Established at Fort Belvoir: ‘Biggest Change to Military Justice since 1950’

In 2023, the Department of Defense responded to a Congressional mandate toward judicial impartiality by creating the Office of Special Trial Counsel (OSTC). It is designed to handle high-profile legal cases, especially those involving allegations of misconduct by senior officers or complex legal issues that require a specialized approach.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin commented in a Dec. 2023 press release that OSTC serves to build trust in an impartial system of justice.

“This reform aims to help strengthen accountability and increase all of our service members’ trust in the fairness and integrity of the military justice system,” Austin said. “I am grateful to all those whose hard work, determination, and resilience helped us to reach this day.”

The U.S. Army OSTC, headquartered at Fort Belvoir next to Defense Acquisition University, is driven by Col. Robert Rodrigues, its Acting Lead Special Trial Counsel. He said numerous teams now have boots in the courtroom.

“We have eight subordinate mid-level headquarters: Six CONUS with 2 OCONUS in Hawaii and Germany. Below that are 28 field offices around the Army and that's where the prosecutors do the day-to-day mission of working with Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) on investigations and prosecuting cases at court martial,” Rodrigues said, adding that OSTC is completely independent in its decision making from any chain of command, underscored by the fact that his boss is the Secretary of the Army.

This process brings military justice farther away from prompt decisions and punishment, as the initial Army was something that only stood up during wars, and then disbanded at the end. Rodrigues said in the midst of warfighting, to maintain good order and discipline, “military justice was designed for a quick resolution so that we could go back to focusing on the fight.”

In World War II, standing Armies changed that, with more time to make sure the right systems, and right protections were in place, such as having a defense counsel for the accused.

“What we're seeing is a recognition that we need to make our system look more like a civilian system to ensure we are doing a thorough job on prosecutions while treating both victims and the accused with respect and ensuring they're getting a fair trial,” Rodrigues said.

According to Secretary Austin this is the biggest change to military justice since the Uniform Code of Military Justice was adopted in 1950, and the Army OSTC is unique among the branches with Special Victim Liaisons at each of the field offices.

“They are responsible for keeping victims up to date on the status of their case,” said Rodrigues. “They are that person who can hold the victim’s hand, as they're waiting to testify in court and providing that extra level of support to a victim as they go through this process.”

OSTC prosecutes 14 serious offenses, including murder, rape, sexual assault, domestic violence and retaliation, and it does not change how crimes are reported in any way. Rodrigues believes his team is already making a difference.

“We are incredibly excited for the challenge and so far, in the first five months, we have really done a great job taking on these new authorities and prosecuting cases. The feedback we've received from soldiers, commanders and Army senior leaders has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said.

Secretary Austin applauded this historic transformation.

“The men and women of the United States military selflessly step up to defend our country, and we have a solemn duty to take the best possible care of them,” Austin said in his press release. “[This] milestone will help modernize the military justice system and is a critical step in ensuring our service members’ access to fair and impartial justice.”

You can learn more about OSTC at

by Paul Lara, Fort Belvoir Public Affairs