Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Sexual Assaults In Military Hearings Made Strange Bedfellows

(From left, Judge Advocate General of the Army Lt. Gen. Dana Chipman; Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno; Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey; and Legal Counsel to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Brig. Gen. Richard Gross)
Along with Coast Guard Commandant, Admiral Robert Papp, these DOD generals arrived on Capitol Hill in Washington, on June 4, 2013, to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on pending legislation regarding sexual assaults in the military. 
They made their case to keep sexual-assault cases within the chain of command, bringing them into face-to-face confrontation with women in the Senate pushing for changes.

 As allegations of sexual assaults and harassment roiled the military, lawmakers have proposed measures to bolster victims’ rights and encourage them to come forward. Uniformed military officers testifying today before the Senate Armed Services Committee dug in against legislation that would turn over cases to independent military prosecutors.

“The commander’s ability to preserve good order and discipline remains essential to accomplishing any change within our profession,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in testimony submitted for the hearing. “Reducing command responsibility could adversely affect the ability of the commander to enforce professional standards.”

Lawmakers in the Senate and House of Representatives led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who serves on the Armed Services panel, have introduced legislation that would remove sexual-assault cases from the military chain of command.

“After speaking to victims, they have told us that the reason they do not report these crimes is because they fear retaliation,” Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, told the military leaders at the hearing. “You have lost the trust of the men and women who rely on you that you would actually bring justice” in their cases.

Commanders can’t always be objective, nor can all of them distinguish between a “slap on the ass” and more serious cases such as rape, said Senator Gillibrand.

Victims’ advocacy groups say service members who are attacked often are reluctant to step forward in a system in which commanding officers decide whether to bring charges, choose the military jury and can reduce or overturn a sentence.

While maintaining that sex-assault allegations should remain within the chain of command, Dempsey said those commanders should be surrounded by a “constellation of checks and balances.”

 Leaders of the Armed Services panel backed the officers in resisting Gillibrand’s approach. Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat and the panel’s chairman, said the issue of sexual assaults can’t be resolved “without a culture change throughout the military.” Military commanders must be held accountable if they don’t make the necessary changes, he said.

“The key to cultural change in the military is the chain of command,” Levin said in his opening statement. “Only the chain of command can establish a zero-tolerance policy for sexual offenses.”
The panel’s top Republican, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, said that “rushing” to change the law could be “counter-productive.”

“No change is possible without commanders as agents of that change,” Inhofe said in his opening statement.
Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said the military must create a climate in which victims are comfortable in coming forward to report crimes.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., grew heated in questioning military leaders during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., grew heated in questioning military leaders during a Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing.

 The Pentagon doesn’t know how many members are raped or sexually assaulted because surveys don’t distinguish between “predatory” behavior and an “unhealthy” working environment, she said at the hearing.

The military has “sexual predators who are not committing crimes of lust,” she said. “This isn’t about sex.” Rather it’s about “domination” and violence, she said.

When asked by Levin, only the chiefs of the Coast Guard and Army said that leaders have been relieved of command as a result of a climate of sexual assault and harassment. (Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Papp relieved a Captain of command in 2010 because of inappropriate relationships.)

The heads of the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force initially said their services haven’t removed anyone. Later in the hearing the Marine Corps commander and the Air Force’s chief of staff amended their comments, saying that their services had taken such action.

All of the commanders testifying promised stronger efforts to combat sexual assaults.

 Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has called sexual assaults and harassment a ‘‘huge problem,’’ has said ‘‘we’re not taking anything off the table’’ to resolve the problem. Hagel has endorsed legislation barring commanders from overturning court-martial convictions of sexual assaults and other major crimes, a proposal that has gained broad support in Congress.

Hagel told graduates at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point last month that solving the military’s crisis of sexual assaults and harassment will require ‘‘your complete commitment to building a culture of respect and dignity.’’

 Among those in the audience for Hagel’s speech were 15 graduating members of the West Point men’s rugby team. Yesterday, it was disclosed that the team was temporarily disbanded and its players disciplined after they took part in what Francis DeMaro, an academy spokesman, called an ‘‘inappropriate e-mail chain” demeaning to women.

Three football players at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, are under investigation for the alleged sexual assault of a female midshipman.

 An Army sergeant who served as a sexual-assault prevention coordinator at Fort Hood, Texas, is being investigated for allegations including “abusive sexual contact” and “pandering,” according to the Pentagon. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, pandering refers to compelling, inducing, enticing or procuring acts of prostitution.

The head of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response branch was arrested in Arlington, Virginia, on a sexual assault charge. Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski “approached a female victim in a parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks” on May 5, according to an Arlington County police report. Krusinski, 41, didn’t enter a plea at his May 9 arraignment, when his trial was set for July 18.

In another case that has fueled debate over the military’s culture, the Army is investigating allegations by soldiers that sexual affairs were condoned at Fort Greely in Alaska, creating what they called a “toxic environment” on the remote base.

 According to a unit phone list gotten by Bloomberg News Service, the battalion at Fort Greely has approximately 16 women among its 195 members.  And, the Defense Department reported a survey estimating 26,000 cases of forced sexual activities. This figure is a 35 per cent increase since the last conducted survey in 2011.

 General Ray Odierno, the Army Chief of Staff, called on his men to condone such sexual proposals inside the Army. "The Army is failing in its effort to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment. It is time we take on the fight against sexual assault and sexual harassment."

 The military is investigating at least three cases where army officials are allegedly guilty of assault, mistreatment of subordinates and inducing prostitution.

 The most controversial case was the case of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Miley, the commander of the Alaska Army National Guard's 49th Missile Defense Battalion. Confirmation about the case was already released by spokesman for the Space and Missile Defense Command, Marco Morales, but he was mum about the specific details.

 Lt. Col. Miley is the commander of battalion at Fort Greely. The commander, with his battalion, was tasked to defend the U.S. from missile attack.

 In the course of his duty, Lt. Col Miley was reported to create a World War II themed pin up calendar designed with photos of his wife and photos of almost naked female soldiers.

 The pin-up calendar was reportedly sold to acquire funds for the American Cancer Society's "Relay for Life" as reported by the Army Times newspaper in March. According to the report, other military units in the U.S. created and sold such themed pin-ups with photos of military wives and women soldiers to acquire funds for veterans.

 In an internal meeting in January 4 which details were revealed through e-mail by the three anonymous witnesses, Lt. Col. Miley defended himself saying that adultery is not punishable under military law.

 The e-mail alleged that Lt. Col. Miley said that "The modern military is an environment where sexual misconduct is commonplace. A soldier can be charged with adultery only if he or she violates a no-contact order" Lt. Col. Miley refused to comment when contacted about the issue."

 The said e-mail was addressed to Lieutenant General Richard Formica, head of the Space and Missile Defense Command. The e-mail also put emphasis on the fact that Lt. Col. Miley's disturbing sexual activities made them fear for their wives and even their children in this toxic environment.

 The e-mail also revealed that sexual complaints involved non-commissioned officer and enlisted soldiers.

 Mr. Morales said that an informal investigation under Army regulations was already set but that the investigation has no deadline. Only when the investigation was completed that Formica and Brigadier General Leon Bridges, commander of the Alaska Army national Guard, will decide if Lt. Col. Miley will be sanctioned for his alleged sexual conducts.

In a rare joint appearance on Capitol Hill today, June 4, the nation’s military chiefs lamented an epidemic of sex crimes in the ranks but vigorously resisted proposals that would take sexual-assault prosecutions out of the hands of commanders, saying such measures could worsen the problem.

The uniformed leaders of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, in a Senate hearing room with dozens of other military officers, admitted to lawmakers that the Defense Department had failed to effectively prevent or respond to sexual assaults despite years of trying.



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