ARMY SEX SCANDAL VERDICT
APRIL 29, 1997
Staff Sergeant Delmar Simpson has been found guilty of 18 counts of rape in a military trial. His victims were six women trainees at the Army's Arberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
KWAME HOLMAN: The 32-year-old staff sergeant was found guilty of raping six women trainees at the army's Aberdeen Proving Ground. A six-member jury of his military superiors convicted Simpson on 18 of 19 rape counts. He could face life in prison when he's sentenced later. Simpson is the first of twelve Aberdeen drill instructors to face courts martial for sexual misconduct.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
March 6, 1997:
Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) discusses the state of the military investigation into the sexual misconduct.
February 4, 1997:
Senators Chuck Robb (D-VA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) discuss whether the military is doing what it can to protect the women who protect our country.
December 26, 1996:
Betty Ann Bowser reports on the ongoing investigation and talks to a group of female soldiers.
November 8, 1996:
Army Secretary, Togo West, discusses the investigations of three U.S. Army officers accused of raping or sexually harassing female recruits in Aberdeen, Md.
April 4, 1996:
A NewsHour discussion of Women in the Military.
U.S. Airforce Web site on Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policies
To date, the scandal has resulted in four settlements through plea agreements or administrative action. Simpson's was the first rape conviction. In testimony over the last two weeks several women privates accused Simpson of harassment, assault, and rape during her 20 months as a drill instructor at Aberdeen.
Military prosecutors said the six foot, four inch Simpson used his physical superiority and powerful position as an advanced training instructor to prey on the women who had just finished basic training. Last week as Simpson's case went to the jury his civilian defense lawyer, Frank Spinner, contended Simpson never raped anyone and had only consensual sex with willing recruits.
FRANK SPINNER: I'm saying all the women who said they were raped were lying.
KWAME HOLMAN: Simpson's court martial and allegations of sexual misconduct at Aberdeen and other bases have given new visibility to issues emerging from the gender integration of the military. Until two years ago women in the army trained in all-female units, but in 1994, in a major policy shift, women were integrated into basic training groups, and for the first time their drill sergeants were men.
In the chain of command the drill sergeant is the recruit's symbol of discipline, with almost unquestioned authority. The sexual misconduct charges by young women trainees at Maryland's Aberdeen Proving Ground were followed by similar charges from women elsewhere in the army and prompted an army-wide investigation.
Last fall, the army set up a hotline to take reports of sexual misconduct. The army says more than 5,000 women have called, and there are 325 investigations of misconduct now ongoing at army installations around the world. Staff Sgt. Delmar Simpson's convictions today mean he could be sentenced to life in prison. Simpson earlier pleaded guilty to eleven counts of improper consensual sex and five counts of propositioning. For those crimes he faces dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay, and up to 32 years in prison.
JIM LEHRER: For more on this now to Mark Thompson, national security correspondent for Time Magazine. Mark, welcome. This was considered the most important of all these cases, was it not?
MARK THOMPSON, Time Magazine: That's correct.
JIM LEHRER: Why?
MARK THOMPSON: It's considered the most important, Jim, because it involved the most charges against a single soldier at Aberdeen and the most serious charges in terms of rape. It is the fulcrum on which the army hopes to build the rest of its cases, and there were a lot of folks in the Pentagon holding their breath, hoping the jury would return a verdict like they did today.
JIM LEHRER: And the key to it is this term "constructive force," is it not? First of all, explain to us what that words means and why it applies in these cases.
MARK THOMPSON: In the civilian world when people think of rape, I think they think of brutality and physical force being used to intimidate, coerce, hurt a victim into doing the perpetrator's bidding.
JIM LEHRER: Using a weapon, even?
MARK THOMPSON: Right. Something--threatening physical harm. Constructive force simply means I am your boss; I am your commander; and essentially you are scared to death of me. And if I tell you to do something, as a drill sergeant, you're going to do it, whether or not I bring a weapon to bear upon you. And that's what the army was trying to convince the jury happened in this case. And although they deliberated for over thirty hours over five days and there was a lot of doubt that they were going to buy into this. In the final analysis they did.
JIM LEHRER: Now, consensual sex, which is what the defense said was all that was involved here, that would have also been against the rules in the military, right?
MARK THOMPSON: Yes. I think the idea of consensual sex in the military is almost an oxymoron. I mean, if I've got to follow your orders all the time, or if you're going to send me into battle and perhaps allow me to die, well, then you can just as easily, you know, order me to have sex with you. And the fact of the matter is that consensual sex between a superior officer and a subordinate just rots, just corrodes, is very corrosive of the good order and discipline we need in a military force, and that's why the army felt very strongly that it had to prevail on this issue.
JIM LEHRER: Now, the--the jury--explain the differences between--we saw the drawings in Kwame's piece. There were six members of the military on this jury, not twelve, as there would have been in the--in the civilian world. Explain the basic differences here.
MARK THOMPSON: Well, the basic differences on the jury is it is, indeed, six members. They are all of superior rank to Sgt. Simpson. There were, I guess, five men and one woman, two blacks and four whites. They did not have to reach a unanimous decision. We don't know yet what the breakdown was. But it's highly likely the votes may not have been six to zero. They might have been five to one on some counts, or four to two on other counts. But so long as there was that four to two margin, in other words, there wasn't a unanimous finding of guilt, but there was a preponderant finding of guilt, the accused is deemed to be guilty. And that's much different than what you find in the civilian courts.
JIM LEHRER: Now, what is the appeal process for Sgt. Simpson compared to what he would have if it were a civilian case?
MARK THOMPSON: It's pretty similar in that he's got three layers yet to go. I mean, if he is sent away to prison for more than a year, which is almost a certainty, it will be an automatic appeal. It will go to the army court of appeals. If he or his attorneys don't like that verdict, there is an armed forces court of appeals which, like our Supreme Court, can opt to hear the case or not to hear the case. And finally, if he doesn't like either of those two decisions, he can appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States.
JIM LEHRER: Now, all of these other cases, as--here again--as Kwame said, there are 325 active cases, active investigations going on in the army as a result of these 5,000 phone calls and other things. Can you give us an overview of this to the status of those?
MARK THOMPSON: Well, you've got ‘em at Fort Leonard Wood; you've got ‘em in Germany; you've got ‘em in Texas at various bases. Most of ‘em are occurring at the 16 bases that are run by TRADOC, the army's Training and Doctrine Command, of which Aberdeen is one. It's a place where soldiers go after basis training to learn sort of the mid-level skills they'll need to know. For example, at Aberdeen, everybody involved in this case, essentially, was someone who was learning or someone who already knew how to be a mechanic on various track vehicles or on artillery systems.
JIM LEHRER: These were not recruits.
MARK THOMPSON: No.
JIM LEHRER: These were not boot camp.
MARK THOMPSON: These are not raw recruits.
JIM LEHRER: Not raw recruits.
MARK THOMPSON: This is the next layer above raw recruits. They were not yet what the military likes to say--these folks, these victims were not yet in the real army. You know, they were still in training. So they still were vulnerable to that degree. They had oversight by their drill instructors, you know, essentially 24 hours a day, so it was very much of an environment where their superiors had a lot more power over them than they would have had, had these folks been out in the regular army.
JIM LEHRER: Was it an accident that the Simpson case was the first one that went to trial?
MARK THOMPSON: I think it was a deliberate decision. Obviously in the light of today's verdict, the army is going to be able to go to any other drill sergeant facing similar charges and saying you can go through a full-fledged court-martial like Sgt. Simpson did, and look what happened to him, or we can settle this administratively, and, you know, we can kick you out, send you to prison, do whatever needs to be done. They've already done this with a couple of folks at Aberdeen. And I think today's decision is likely to make that a lot more--happen a lot more.
The fact of the matter was if it had gone the other way, you know, these folks who are currently in the box facing penalty would demand court-martials. Now, I think it will shift the other way, and the army, frankly, will be glad to see that happen. That means there won't be this public brouhaha, and maybe some of these cases can essentially be settled totally behind closed doors.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of the public brouhaha, finally, Mark, has--have you picked up any serious discussion within the leadership of the military, civilian or military side, about, hey, wait a minute, maybe the commingling of sex in the army may not be the may to go, maybe we need to rethink our training, et cetera?
MARK THOMPSON: There is some of that, but I don't think it's very serious. I mean, the fact of the matter is that they fight integrated; they need to train as an integrated unit. And effectively, when President Clinton fought the battle on gays in the military, he lost because the military combined with the Congress said, no, no, no, no. It's going to be a very dangerous precedent, I think, if this time around people basically say, you know, our army men can't help themselves, ergo we need to protect our women by keeping them apart. I think that would send a very bad signal, and I think it would be done for the--the mischief of just a few. And I don't think the army can afford to allow that to happen.
JIM LEHRER: Just a few. The impression in the public is there is a lot of this going on out there in the army.
MARK THOMPSON: Well, there are dozens plainly, but there are thousands of drill sergeants.
JIM LEHRER: I hear you. Thank you very much, Mark.
MARK THOMPSON: Thank you, Jim.