- There was quite a struggle in Congress this week. The
Department of Defense refused to allow the senior civilian in charge
of its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) to testify
in Thursday's hearing on sexual assault in the military. Rep. John
Tierney, chair of the House Subcommittee on National Security and
Foreign Affairs, angrily dismissed Principal Deputy Undersecretary
of Defense Michael Dominguez from the hearing when Dominguez said
that he, the DoD chief of legislative affairs and the chief of public
affairs, had ordered Dr. Kaye Whitley, chief of SAPRO, to refuse
to honor the subpoena issued by the subcommittee for her appearance.
- Full committee Chairman Henry Waxman called the DoD's
decision to prevent Whitley from testifying "ridiculous and
indicating DoD is covering something up." It could also place
Whitley in contempt of Congress. Rep. Christopher Shays said the
DoD's decision was "foolish."
- One of the questions that would have been put to Whitley
was why DoD had taken three years to name a 15-person civilian task
force to look into allegations of sexual assault of military personnel.
The panel was finally named early in 2008 but has yet to meet. She
would have also been queried on the SAPRO program's failure to require
key information from the military in order to evaluate the effectiveness
of sexual assault prevention and response programs.
- I spoke with Dr. Whitley in April 2007 and had asked
for an appointment to bring to her office four military women who
had been sexually assaulted and wanted to tell her in what ways the
DoD programs to prevent sexual assault were not working. Whitley
declined, saying she worked at the policy level, and steered me to
the chief of the Army sexual assault program. I called the Army program's
chief, who initially said she would talk to our group. However, when
I mentioned that the mother of Army Spc. Suzanne Swift, who had been
raped in Iraq, would be with us, she said she could not meet with
anyone involved with an ongoing case. I replied that Swift's case
was closed as far as the Army was concerned. Her rapist had not been
prosecuted, and Swift ended up with a court- martial and 30 days of jail
time because she had gone AWOL for her own protection when the Army
would not move her out of the unit to which both she and her rapist
were still assigned. In view of the fact that the Army chief of prevention
of sexual assault refused to meet with any of the four women who
had suggestions on how to improve prevention and reporting of sexual
assault and rape, I'm not surprised that the DoD snubbed Congress
over the same issue.
- Rep. Elijah Cummings joined Rep. Waxman in speaking of
cover- ups. Cummings raised the cases of military women who had been
sexually assaulted before dying in "non-combat incidents." He
spoke specifically about Army Pfc. LaVena Johnson, who was found
beaten and dead of a gunshot wound at Balad Air Base, Iraq, in a
burning tent owned by the contractor KBR. Her parents suspected that
Johnson had been murdered and that the homicide was being covered
up by the Army, which deemed the death a suicide. Cummings also spoke
of Army Pfc. Tina Priest, who was raped at Taji, Iraq, and found
dead 10 days later of a gunshot wound. After her family had measurements
taken of her arms and of the angle of the bullet and found that she
could not have pulled the trigger of her M-16 with her finger, the
Army said she had pulled the trigger by using her toe. Cummings asked
Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle, chief of U.S. Army personnel, for assistance
in getting all the documents the Army had on Johnson's death. Additionally,
four House members have asked for congressional hearings on the deaths
of military personnel who have been classified as suicides, among
them LaVena Johnson.
- The fireworks with DoD followed the dramatic testimony
of Mary Lauterbach, the mother of murdered pregnant Marine Lance
Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, who had been raped in May 2007 at Camp Lejeune,
N.C. Accused in the case is Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean. After the
rape, several protective orders were issued to keep Laurean away
from his victim. The burned body of Lauterbach and her unborn baby
were found in a shallow grave in the backyard of Laurean's home in
January 2008. Laurean fled to Mexico, where he was subsequently apprehended,
and he now is awaiting extradition to the United States to stand
trial. Lauterbach's mother explained in great detail the warning
signs that Laurean was a danger to her daughter and claimed that all
these signs were ignored by the Marine Corps.
- Two other military women have been murdered near military
bases in North Carolina in the past two months.
- Red Cross employee Ingrid Torres told the subcommittee
of being raped at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea by an Air Force
flight doctor. She spoke of the difficulty she had obtaining medical
and emotional treatment from the facility where the doctor still
worked, and later from military facilities in other parts of the
world where she was assigned.
- Rep. Jane Harman cited Veterans Administration statistics
that one in three women in the military has been sexually assaulted.
She said the prosecution rate of those accused of raping fellow military
service members is abysmally low. Of the 2,212 reported rapes in the
military in 2007, only 8 percent of the cases ended in court-martial
of the perpetrator, while the rate of prosecution in civilian courts
is 40 percent.
- Lt. Gen. Rochelle, the Army chief of personnel, reported
the little known statistic that 12 percent of reported rapes in the
military are of male military personnel.
- Rep. Shays said he had no confidence in DoD or the military
services and their policies of prevention of sexual assault, and
asked how recruiting will fare when young women learn that one in
three women is sexually assaulted and when young men find out that
one in 10 men is raped while in the military.
- Brenda Farrell, director of the Government Accountability
Office, said that getting data on rape from the military services is
difficult because there are no common definitions of terms for the
services to use in such cases.
- Farrell said the GAO believes rates of sexual assault
currently used by DoD are low because many military personnel do
not want to report what happened and suffer the gossip, harassment
and stigma prevalent in units when confidential reporting is compromised.
In a survey of 3,757 persons on 14 military installations, 103 said
they had been sexually assaulted in the past year and had reported
it, while 52 others said they did not report the sexual assault.
- Several Congress members spoke of lack of leadership
and accountability in stopping sexual assault. The same day as the
sexual assault hearing, the Navy relieved two senior officers of the
USS George Washington because of the injury to 23 sailors and $70
million in damage to the ship caused by a smoking violation. Imagine
if commanders in units where rape occurred were relieved of command
for the harmful actions of their subordinates. That would send a
signal of zero tolerance of sexual assault, whereas in the current
climate victims are intimidated and alleged perpetrators are given
administrative punishment instead of court-martial.
- Sexual violence against both female and male military
personnel must stop. Let Congress know of your concern about sexual
assault in our military. Call or e-mail members of the House and
Senate Armed Services committees and members of the Oversight and
Government Reform committees.
- Ann Wright is a retired Army Reserve colonel and a 29-year
veteran of the Army and Army Reserves. She was also a diplomat in
Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone,
Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned from the Department
of State on March 19, 2003, in opposition to the Iraq war. She is
the co-author of "Dissent: Voices of Conscience"