Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Robert Burns / The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers say they're outraged that for the second time this month a member of the armed forces assigned to help prevent sexual assaults in the military is under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct.
The back-to-back Army and Air Force cases highlight a problem that is drawing increased scrutiny in Congress and expressions of frustration from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Lawmakers said it was time for Hagel to get tough with the military brass.
"This is sickening. Twice now, in a matter of as many weeks, we've seen the very people charged with protecting victims of sexual assault being charged as perpetrators," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said. "It's an astonishing reminder that the Pentagon has both a major problem on its hands and a tremendous amount of work to do to assure victims — who already only report a small fraction of sexual assaults — that they are changing the culture around these heinous crimes.
"Secretary Hagel needs to act swiftly to re-examine sexual assault services across the department to ensure that these disturbing betrayals of trust are ended," Murray said.
Hagel said he was directing all the services to retrain, re-credential and rescreen all sexual assault prevention and response personnel and military recruiters, his spokesman, George Little, said after Tuesday's announcement that a sergeant first class at Fort Hood, Texas, was accused of pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates.
The soldier, whose name was not released, was being investigated by the Army Criminal Investigation Command. No charges had been filed.
Little said Hagel was angry and disappointed at "these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply." He said Hagel met with Army Secretary John McHugh earlier Tuesday and ordered him to "fully investigate this matter rapidly, to discover the extent of these allegations and to ensure that all of those who might be involved are dealt with appropriately."
The Fort Hood soldier had been assigned as an equal opportunity adviser and coordinator of a sexual harassment-assault prevention program at the Army's 3rd Corps headquarters when the allegation arose, the Army said.
"To protect the integrity of the investigative process and the rights of all persons involved, no more information will be released at this time," an Army statement said.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., said in a statement he was "outraged and disgusted by the reports out of Fort Hood."
McKeon, noting he has a granddaughter in the Army, said he saw "no meaningful distinction between complacency or complicity in the military's latest failure to uphold their own standards of conduct. Nor do I see a distinction between the service member who orchestrated this offense and the chain of command that was either oblivious to or tolerant of criminal behavior. Both are accountable for this appalling breach of trust with their subordinates."
He called on Hagel to conduct a review of the military and its civilian leadership "to determine whether they continue to hold his trust and his confidence to lead in this area."
Just last week an Air Force officer who headed a sexual assault prevention office was himself arrested on charges of groping a woman in a Northern Virginia parking lot.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement his panel was considering a number of measures to counter the problem, including changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and will act on them next month.
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