ARMY INVESTIGATES SEXUAL MISCONDUCT
NOVEMBER 8, 1996
As three U.S. Army officers face court martials for raping or sexually harassing female recruits at the proving grounds in Aberdeen, Md., Army Secretary, Togo West, discusses scrutiny of training installations. Charlayne Hunter-Gault talks to the Army's chief officer in a Newsmaker interview.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: There are about 67,000 women among the 1/2 million soldiers in the United States Army, but up to now, the army has been largely freely of highly publicized sexual misconduct cases that have dogged other services. That ended with the army's disclosure yesterday that more than a dozen female trainees at a base in Maryland had been subject to sexual harassment and even rape and sodomy.
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U.S. Airforce Web site on Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policies
At least five soldiers, including one captain, have been charged, and three face military trials. The men--all married--were responsible for the women's training at the Aberdeen base. For more on the story now, we have a Newsmaker Interview with the Secretary of the Army, Togo West. Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us. What is the status of the investigation at this point?
TOGO WEST, Secretary of the Army: Well, at this point, as you pointed out, Charlayne, charges have been preferred against three uniform service members--a captain and two drill sergeants. Investigations continue. Our army CID--the investigative arm of the army--is continuing to interview and pursuing other leads and some pre-decisional--we call them Article 32 investigations are underway and will result in further decisions on whether more charges are to be filed.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And how serious are those charges against the men?
SEC. WEST: All charges of rape, of sexual abuse are serious. The charges of rape, for example, can result in lifetime confinement.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mm-hmm. And you say that other possible charges against them, or other people might be included in this circle of people--the circle might be expanded?
SEC. WEST: Right. It's a little early for me to speculate on where those investigations will go. There are certain requirements for the protections of the individuals, but we are looking into charges against other individuals.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: At this point, this investigation has been going on since September, is that right?
SEC. WEST: First reported violation was, I believe, September 11th or September 13th--the second week of September.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Is it taking a long time? I mean, it's now--what--November--the second week in November?
SEC. WEST: Oh, no. The timing on how charges are processed after the accusations are made is actually strictly controlled by procedures in the uniform code of military justice. You do the investigation. We have to have--after we get the facts--an Article 32 investigation--and then you can prefer charges. Now, that's not the timing that's of a worry to us. The timing to us is how long is the knowledge of these violations likely to have festered in a trainee who may have been abused before that trainee could feel confident enough of our system to bring it to our attention. That concerns us very much.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What's your answer to that? I mean, you have policies on sexual harassment, the army hadn't been tainted like other services up to that point. What do you think resulted--caused that lack of confidence?
SEC. WEST: Well, first of all, remember that these are under criminal investigation. We're still trying to find out if what is alleged actually happened and, if so, we will take the appropriate action that's required. But remember, these are allegations in a trainee environment. Trainees are our newest, most vulnerable members. They're the members of our army family who know the least about other procedures. So it could be that embraced as they were in that training environment, where their sole authority and means of redress is the person who is in charge of the training, that they may not have felt they had a redress.
If that's so, if that turns out to be the case, we have a challenge in front of us because we have programs of instruction in place that are supposed to solve that, and it means that we haven't gotten that done as well as we have thought we had.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: I read somewhere that several--actually I heard several women interviewed saying that they weren't surprised that this came forward because when the women--young women like this 18, 19 years old--they're taught in their training to look to their superior officers and trainers as gods. Is that--you think it's part of the culture of all this that contributed to this, that may be responsible for it?
SEC. WEST: Well, I heard--I heard some of those, as you did. I also have heard one young woman interviewed there last night say, uh, that, yes, in response to a question, she felt safe. She felt protected because the response of army authorities had been to come in, to investigate, that she felt that things were happening. I heard another--the two-star general who commands it--say that this is the worst situation he's seen in his 30 years of experience, meaning that for us in the army this is not what we expect of INCO's, it's not what they expect of themselves.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: I've read that you've interviewed some 500 women. You plan to interview a thousand. Has that turned up anything?
SEC. WEST: Oh, we expect that. Out of that, we will be able to learn whether there are additional circumstances, additional violations.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Are these the 500 women--excuse me--are these the 500 women in the camp where the training is going on, or how--what is--where is that investigation?
SEC. WEST: This is at the proving ground, itself, where the alleged violations occurred. And it's not just the number that's important. It is our determination to go back through two full training cycles, back to the beginning of 1995, to ask every woman trainee who has come through that training facility what has happened to you, what have you experienced, have you been exposed to this? We don't think a sampling is of any help. We need to know from every trainee.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Secretary, the army, as I said before, does have a sexual harassment policy in place. What was it, and why didn't it prevent this?
SEC. WEST: That's we'd like to know. And I don't say that facetiously. We have several things going forward. The investigations, yes, the criminal investigations, but also the four-star commanding general of the parent command, training and doctrine command, has underway a wide-ranging look-see by his inspector general across all of our training bases to understand what's the climate and whether there is something there that we've missed.
We'd like to know the answer to that. Remember, for us, an army exists based on trust, the trust of the American people that we will defend him and the trust of our soldiers that they will--their leaders will do what's best for them. When we violate that trust, we disappoint our country and we betray our soldiers.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What is exactly--is in place and is it too soon for you to say what you might change about that?
SEC. WEST: Well, actually some things have been changed already. Gen. Hartzog, the four-star commanding--commanding general of TRADOC and the two-star commander there, Gen. Shili, have already changed some things. They have reinforced a block of training just for the new trainees as soon as they arrive, within 24 hours, on rape prevention, on the buddy system, on the things that they can do to make sure that they do not find themselves in a situation where if a drill instructor is indeed doing this, they can be taken advantage of.
Of course, the obligation is not on them. They are not the ones who are alleged to have done this. They are the victims. So the real obligation is on our drill sergeant. So also some things have been changed there. Yes, train them more, but also making sure that he has put in place some additional means of monitoring, and the most important thing is that we will enforce our law. If violations have occurred, we will hold the perpetrators accountable.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Was there any possibility that there wasn't sufficient seriousness of attention paid to the sexual harassment policies you have in place now? I mean, could that explain it?
SEC. WEST: We worry about that. We believe that we have given indications of our strong support for our soldiers, male and female. We believe, as you say, that we have a strong sexual harassment prevent policy in place. And yet, just this past summer, when a survey was done by the Department of Defense across all of our service members in all the services, even though every service the service members said improvement had occurred, our service members said that it had improved least noticeably in the army, if I may put it that way. That's a worry to us.
Not that we want to compare ourselves with others, but we owe it to our soldiers for them to have confidence in us, so we're looking to see if that's the case. You asked what we're going to do. One other thing is after all of that review in the command is completed, I am impaneling an advisory panel of experts within the department and with out to tell us whether we have learned everything we need to have learned and also whether this is any kind of a wake-up call for other places in our army where superiors lead subordinates and have the opportunity to take advantage of that authority.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: I mentioned before the things that had happened in other services, the Navy and so on, do these--I mean, at the time of the Tailhook and other scandals with the Navy, I remember even interviews with people on this program about whether or not that was a part of the culture of the Navy, which had its own sort of unique, um, well, culture. Do these incidents suggest that it's not just the problem of the--of the culture of the Navy but maybe the culture of the military, itself, that--that there really are ingrained attitudes of contempt towards women that--that just haven't been dealt with?
SEC. WEST: We hope not. It's certainly almost an easy answer potentially to say then what many identify as a kind of macho society. That would be the case. And there's also the other answer that folks listening to me that they would say, please be sure and say--and that is our services are a reflection of the society in which they find themselves. Remember, every year I bring in sixty, seventy thousand new soldiers who have to be taught once again the standards our army holds them to. So we think it's not the ingrained culture. We hope it's not. We know that our belief in ourselves is that we value every soldier because that's the only way we get our job done. But we have to learn.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Secretary, thank you.
SEC. WEST: Thank you.