Monday, August 4, 2008

Truthdig on military sexual assault hearing

Activist and retired Army Colonel Ann Wright has been indispensable to the effort to prompt a renewed investigation of the death in Iraq of Pfc. LaVena Johnson. She has also fought to make known the wider issue of murder and sexual assault of women in the armed forces. Col. Wright attended the recent hearings on sexual assault in the military held by the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, and has written at Truthdig a critical account of the refusal of the Department of Defense to allow a witness to be heard:

Sexual Assault in the Military: A DoD Cover-Up?

There was quite a struggle in Congress this week. The Department of Defense refused to allow the senior civilian in charge of its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) to testify in Thursday’s hearing on sexual assault in the military. Rep. John Tierney, chair of the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, angrily dismissed Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Michael Dominguez from the hearing when Dominguez said that he, the DoD chief of legislative affairs and the chief of public affairs, had ordered Dr. Kaye Whitley, chief of SAPRO, to refuse to honor the subpoena issued by the subcommittee for her appearance.

Full committee Chairman Henry Waxman called the DoD’s decision to prevent Whitley from testifying “ridiculous and indicating DoD is covering something up.” It could also place Whitley in contempt of Congress. Rep. Christopher Shays said the DoD’s decision was “foolish.”

One of the questions that would have been put to Whitley was why DoD had taken three years to name a 15-person civilian task force to look into allegations of sexual assault of military personnel. The panel was finally named early in 2008 but has yet to meet. She would have also been queried on the SAPRO program’s failure to require key information from the military in order to evaluate the effectiveness of sexual assault prevention and response programs.

In addition to LaVena Johnson, Col. Wright references the cases of Army Spc. Suzanne Swift, Army Pfc. Tina Priest, and Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach.

Read more of Col. Wright’s article at Truthdig.

It should be noted that the chairman of the subcommittee's parent, the House Oversight Committee - Representative Henry Waxman - is the named petitionee of a new public appeal for hearings on the LaVena Johnson case. This petition is authored by the advocacy group ColorofChange.


Le said...

I'm glad there are activists such as Ann out there. I think it's a sad irony that her career ended when she chose to protest the same war that Johnson went on to serve and die in. It seems like just when you think the U.S. military can't be more messed up, you hear about the outrageously high rate of female troops being raped, and then getting killed when they try to report the crime. I don't even know what else to say about this issue.