Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in the Brothers Karamazov, “The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others.”
With the growing problem of sexual assault in the military, this is precisely where our military leadership finds itself. President Obama has ordered top U.S. military leaders to do whatever is necessary to prevent these crimes. The President told Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they must take action and solve the problem. “Not only is it a crime. Not only is it shameful and disgraceful. But it is also going to make our military less effective than it can be…As such, it is dangerous to our national security. So this is not a sideshow. … This goes to the heart and core of who we are and how effective we’re going to be.” The military leaders say they are angry and ashamed over the situation. But are they willing to take the necessary steps?
The Defense Department has only begun to acknowledge the gravity of military rape, its devastating psychological and physical impact on victims, and its corrosive effect on the military in general. Yet even now, the DoD continues to resist entreaties to bring in outsiders to investigate and prosecute, the most important step in addressing the problem. In the case of military rape, military officers are still counted on to clean up their own house. When complaints of sexual assault remain within the military, those who currently investigate have inherent conflicts of interest. A career at stake can, and often does, trump the rights of an alleged victim.
Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY) is championing the movement to remove the military chain of command from the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault crimes. “When we just talk (to victims) informally, they tell us they don’t report because they are afraid of retaliation, being marginalized, having their careers end or being blamed,” she said on CNN. “And so what we have to do is create a different dynamic so they feel more comfortable reporting.”
That’s why it is experienced investigators outside the chain of command who should be in charge of the diligent and thorough investigation of rape, a felony criminal complaint. This calls for direct action as opposed to anodyne reports and recommendations emanating from the distant reaches of the Pentagon.
With the support of the President, the Secretary of Defense, should create a “Sexual Assault Unit” located at the Pentagon, composed of Department of Defense civilians, not military. This Unit should be made up of disciplined criminal investigators and prosecutors with extensive experience in this field.
Suppose a 19-year-old private is assaulted behind the mess hall at night at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. That private should be able to call the 800 number of the Pentagon Sexual Assault Unit without fear of retribution from a superior officer. A qualified nurse assigned to the base would preserve the evidence with a rape investigation kit. Within four hours, two investigators and a prosecutor fly out of Washington, headed for San Antonio. On arrival, the Pentagon investigative team would immediately gathers forensics and takes the alleged victim’s statement, and then contacts the Base Commander.
By policy, the Base Commander would then be obligated to provide the team with a secure working area and cooperate in the investigation under penalty of obstruction of justice. The Pentagon team would have complete authority over anything related to the alleged crime. If charges were filed, the trial would still take place in a military court. Punishment for convicted offenders would include expulsion from the military and having one’s name entered into a Defense Department registry of sex offenders, available to the public.
The situation can only be remedied with radical, not cosmetic surgery. Recent scandals on Wall Street, at our universities, and in government have taught us, or should have taught us, that once wrongdoing occurs, the larger the institution, the less chance impartial outside investigators will be called to investigate. And the Department of Defense is as large as it gets.
Justice is clearly not being served for sexual assault in the military, and the reluctance of military leaders to involve outside investigators only delays a resolution. Without a civilian Pentagon investigative team, the situation is likely to continue, and sexual assault in the military will ruin countless future lives.
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