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Report finds a ‘failure of leadership’ after Fort Hood murder

A new independent report details widespread systemic problems at Fort Hood, Texas, including a culture that allows sexual assault in its ranks. It was ordered after the murder of U.S. Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén, and led to the removal or suspensions of 14 senior officers. Nick Schifrin spoke with retired Col. Ellen Haring, a research fellow at the Service Women's Action Network, to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A new independent report details widespread, systemic problems at Fort Hood, Texas, including a culture that allows sexual assault in the ranks. It was ordered after the murder of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen.

    The report led to the removal or suspension of 14 commanders.

    Nick Schifrin has the details.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    It's a report the secretary of the Army says goes beyond one base and one person.

    U.S. Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy: This report, without a doubt, will cause the Army to change our culture.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The independent panel found Fort Hood's command ineffectively implemented the military's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, or SHARP, left serious crimes unaddressed and ran an inefficient criminal investigations division.

    In response, the Army relieved or suspended more than a dozen commanders, including Major General Scott Efflandt, Hood's now-former commander. It took a murder for the Army to investigate and admit its problems. Vanessa Guillen was a 20-year-old private who'd wanted to join the military since she was young. Guillen told her family she was harassed by a higher-ranking soldier, but Fort Hood had a culture of retribution, so she was too scared to report it.

    She went missing in April. Two months later, her body was found, burned and partially dismembered.

    Earlier today, I spoke to Army Undersecretary James McPherson.

  • James McPherson:

    We have failed. Leadership has failed our junior soldiers, men and women, at Fort Hood.

    But we're not naive. We think that that might be greater than Fort Hood. And so, today, every general officer in the command position and their senior enlisted received a copy of the report.

    The action taken yesterday by the secretary in the 14 individuals that were either relieved or suspended is unprecedented. The Army has never had that wide a swipe, if you will, of holding senior members accountable in its history. We believe that sent a profound message throughout the Army, throughout leadership of the Army, like a tsunami wave.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The report criticizes Fort Hood's implementation of the program designed to prevent and improve sexual assault reporting, but acknowledges, many of those most closely involved in the SHARP program at Fort Hood lacked confidence in most aspects of the program.

  • James McPherson:

    I believe that the real problem that we saw at Fort Hood was the implementation of the SHARP program at the lower levels of the command. Leaders at every echelon of the command weren't paying attention, weren't carefully monitoring how that implementation was taking place at every echelon of command.

    And when you got down to the company level at Fort Hood, it wasn't being implemented at all.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The report emphasized, women at Fort Hood were afraid to report because previous cases of harassment and assault went unpunished.

    Independent review committee member Carrie Ricci:

  • Carrie Ricci:

    And then other women would say, because of what happened to this soldier, I wouldn't feel comfortable coming forward.

    So there was an overall sense that there is that reluctance to report, because who is going to believe us, especially for a junior enlisted woman.

  • James McPherson:

    One of the things the Army has depended upon its success for decades and decades has been trust that our junior soldiers had in their chain of command, trust in every level of their chain of command.

    We recognize now at Fort Hood that trust was lost, because women were afraid to report. When they did report, they perceived nothing was happening. When they did report, they perceived that there was — they were being targeted in response to that.

    I think it will convince leadership that they need to take ownership of what's going on. They need to take ownership that they're responsible for the safety and the health of their men and women that are under their command.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Several pieces of legislation exist that would remove the chain of command from the decision to prosecute sexual harassment and abuse claims. The military opposes that.

  • James McPherson:

    I think the chain of command is essential to ensuring good order and discipline among our formations.

    And although there's every indication that we failed, the leadership failed to do that at Fort Hood and perhaps at other installations as well, you take it out of the hands of the commander, eventually, the commander, not today, maybe not tomorrow, but, eventually, the commander is going to say, it no longer belongs to me. It's no longer my problem. It's some other agency's problem.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And now, for a different perspective, we turn to retired Colonel Ellen Haring. She had a 31-year career in the Army, and is now a research fellow at the Service Women's Action Network.

    Welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    You heard Undersecretary McPherson say that the Army believes these problems might be greater than Fort Hood. Is there any doubt about that?

  • Ellen Haring:

    Absolutely not.

    And I think that just qualifying it like that is just very narrow-minded. We have known about these problems since 2014, when Congress first started making the Army document the problem of sexual assault in the military. This is not new.

    And as recently as 2017, a RAND report pointed specifically to Fort Hood as being a specific problem and the base with the highest rate of sexual harassment and sexual assault across the Army.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And so, yesterday, we heard the Army secretary say that the report identified things that we had not seen previously.

    As you just said ,you have been following this for years. Hasn't the Army known about these problems for that many years?

  • Ellen Haring:

    Absolutely.

    And the idea that the — that this is unknown is absurd to me. Not only has an organization like mine was created in direct response to these problems, but women have been telling their stories for.

    This dates back — this dates back to my time — before I even joined the Army in 1979. Certainly, we experienced these problems throughout my entire career.

    But it was more recently that it's been brought to the fore by mostly women who have challenged the existing status quo across the services. And there have been just a series, subsequent series after series after series of these scandals across the military services, and certainly in the Army.

    It's absurd to characterize this as something new.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In response to this report, the Army has suspended or relieved 14 commanders. Is that sufficient?

  • Ellen Haring:

    No, but it is certainly one of the first times that they have actually done that. And it will send a strong message.

    But they — I was very upset by the relief of 14 people just local to Fort Hood that included enlisted men. First of all, this is a broad, systemic problem that should be carried by the officers who lead those enlisted men. To relieve enlisted men, that's — to me, that's shirking the responsibility at the highest levels.

    I'd like to see senior commanders relieved, the Third Corps commander was not relieved. In fact, only his deputy was relieved. The previous Third Corps commander, where all these problems developed, not only was he — is he not being considered for a sanction or punishment. He's now gone on to another star.

    So, commander after commander after commander has had this problem at Fort Hood. None of them have addressed it. Instead, it's usually a stepping-stone to another star.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Let's talk about the military's sexual assault program designed to increase reporting and prevent sexual assault.

    You heard Undersecretary McPherson say the problem is the program's implementation, not the program itself. Do you agree?

  • Ellen Haring:

    Well, I wouldn't blame the problem on the program itself. I would blame it on the leadership that is required to execute the program.

    So, I do think that there are fundamentally good things about the program. But, if leadership isn't involved, doesn't care about it, it's going to be one of those things that never gets actually implemented. And, in this case, there are broad-based leadership failures, but, again, it's not isolated to Fort Hood. This is across the Army.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    When it comes to solutions, you Heard Undersecretary McPherson saying keeping the chain of command in the investigation process keeps commanders accountable.

    Do you think that the investigations process should be removed from the chain of command?

  • Ellen Haring:

    Absolutely. We have long advocated for removing commanders from the investigative process.

    They always say that it goes to good order and discipline. But I'd like to point to many militaries that do not have commanders in their chain of command, like the Brits. The Brits — commanders in the British Army do not get to make the decision about when and how crimes are prosecuted.

    And they don't have a problem with good order and discipline in the British Army. So, why is it that we would have that problem in the U.S., unless we have poor leadership? Good order and discipline is a result of good leadership. And, clearly, there was a failure of leadership here.

    There's been a failure of leadership on this topic for decades.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ellen Haring, thank you very much.

  • Ellen Haring:

    Thank you for having me.

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