Thursday, March 14, 2013

He readies for the swimsuit competition









Senator Kristen Gillibrand:  Too often women and men have found themselves in the fight of their lives -- not in the theater of war but in their own ranks, among their own brothers and sisters and ranking officers in an environment that enables sexual assault.  And after an assault occurs -- an estimated 19,000 sexual assaults happened in 2011 alone according to the Defense Dept's own estimates -- some of these victims have to fight all over again with every ounce of their being just to have their voice heard, their assailant brought to any measure of justice and then to fight for the disability claims they deserve to be fulfilled.

This morning in DC, the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel held a hearing on rape and assault in the military.  Gillibrand is the Subcommittee Chair, Lindsey Graham is the Ranking Member.  Chair Gillibrand observed, "The issue of sexual violence in the military is not new and it has been allowed to go on in the shadows for far too long."  Ranking Member Graham noted that  ". . . clearly the message that we're sending to our female members of the military is that we're too indifferent and that your complaints are falling on deaf ears."

Senator Barbara Boxer doesn't serve on the Subcommittee (or the Senate Armed Service Committee period) but felt the need to testify before them.  She babbled on about being "heartened that Secretary Hagel is taking immediate action to review the facts of this troubling case . . ."  Save your babbles, Boxer.  What a bunch of crap.  The case in question is a public relations nightmare.  In November, Lt Col James Wilkerson was found guilty by a military court of assaulting a woman.  At the end of last month, Lt Gen Craig A. Franklin gave an order releasing Wilkerson from prison and Franklin tossed aside the conviction.

Boxer can babble all she wants and some groups will be stupid enough to pretend the babbles help anyone.  First off, Boxer voted to confirm Hagel.  She and her cohorts didn't give a damn about whether or not Hagel could do the job.  For the record, the job isn't hating Israel (as far as I know, Hagel doesn't hate Israel) or giving speeches against the Iraq War.  These were the 'reasons' so many idiots backed Hagel.  We pointed out repeatedly, before his name was even floated and after he was nominated, that the Secretary of Defense had two major problems to address: the rate of suicide and the rate or rape and assault in the military. 

The Senate didn't consider these problems to matter as evidenced by what passed for questioning.  Big surprise, one of the two issues blows immediately after someone who isn't qualified is voted into the position.

Will Hagel rise to the occasion? 

So far?  No.

Hagel hasn't done a damn thing except answered the questions of members of Congress.  Congress has pushed this not Hagel.

It shouldn't have come to this.  Hagel should have handled it all by himself and should have.

Rape and assault are serious crimes.  If we're not going to take them seriously then allow Hagel to muddle along, allow Barbara Boxer to give lip service to caring, but at the end of the day please drop the pretense that anybody really gave a damn.

What Lt Gen Craig A. Franklin did was outrageous.  Any other crime overturned by whim would be dealt with swiftly.  Don't give me the nonsense about, "Well it's in the code that the senior officer in someone's chain of command can overturn a court-martial."  There's nothing that can be done for this issue now with regards to Wilkerson, a sexual predator -- a convicted sexual predator, being allowed to walk.

But here's what Hagel can do -- what he damn well should have done immediately -- move to bust Lt Gen Craig A. Franklin down in rank.

Instead of acting like the chicken with his head cut off -- exactly why so many of us said Hagel didn't have the experience needed for the position -- Hagel should have immediately started the process to bust Franklin in rank. 

Instead it's been pity party, it's been "Congress you should have written something stopping this."  No, this is a flagrant assault on justice.  And guess what?  That makes is conduct unbecoming an officer.  When you add in that the offense is something out of control that the chain of command above Franklin has made clear must be dealt with, it's all the more unbecoming conduct. 

How do you address it, how do you prevent from happening again?  You bust the officer down in rank.  Not only does it ensure that Franklin won't have the power to do it in the immediate future, it also sends a message to everyone else in the ranks that this is unacceptable.  That in today's military, rape and assault will be treated as serious charges.

The member of the Senate that has addressed this the best, in my opinion, is Senator Claire McCaskill.  She's not posturing, she's demanding answers, she's demanding change, she's expressing justifiable outrage over what happened.  She also spoke in Congress last week about this.  Did a great job, I thought, and I'm not fan of Claire McCaskill's.  She didn't show up at today's hearing empty-handed, she's already got a bill that would end this type of jury nullification.  She wrote an amazing column on the issue and, in it, she points out of Franklin's nullification of the verdict, "This violates every sense of justice and fairness that we expect in America."  It does.  And -- pay attention, Chuck Hagel -- when an action "violates every sense of justice and fairness that we expect in America," that's conduct unbecoming an officer.

Hagel's refused to do what he immediately should have, move to bust Franklin down in rank -- a move US President Barack Obama should sign off on.

"Now what is it going to take to convince the military that sexual assault is a violent and vicious crime [. . .]" Boxer babbled on.  It's not a mystery.  The answer is very simple and it sends a message, "We better start taking this crime seriously." 

Boxer is part of the problem.  She's so hell bent on pontificating that she never realizes the answer already exists.  She's too busy praising Hagel to insist that he do his job. Article 133 of the UCMJ is very clear on this and you damn well better believe if you can be convicted of unbecoming conduct for being drunk in public or associating with a prostitute, your decision to set a sexual offender free and to expunge his record -- thereby allowing him not to even have to register as a sex offender -- is outrageous and, most importantly, dangerous to society.  Franklin has disgraced his rank.

After Boxer finished babbling, a second panel spoke.  Service Women's Action Network's Anu Bhagwati, former Army member BriGette McCoy, former Army member Rebekah Havrilla and former Navy Brian K. Lewis. 

Anu Bhagwati: Sexually assault is widely understood by military personnel who have been overexposed to a culture of victim blaming and rape mythology.  So let's be clear: Rape and assault are violent, traumatic crimes -- not mistakes, not lapses of professional judgment, not leadership failures and not oversights in character.  Rape is about power, control and intimidation.  Thanks to a surge of pressure over the last few years by advocates, the media and Congress, military force has finally been forced to reckon with the issue of military sexual violence.

Senator Kelly Ayotte is a former prosecutor and she noted that her home state (New Hampshire) has a Victims Bill of Rights and felt that the military would benefit from adoption one.  Senator Mazie Hirono spoke about removing the chain of command from these issues and having an independent body pursue the charges as well as the need for victims reporting attacks to be able to be reassigned to different units.  Senator Jeanne Shaheen noted  she was "amazed to see in your statistics that SWAN brought forward that 1 in 3 convicted sex offenders remain in the military and that the only branch of the service that says they discharge all sex offenders if the Navy."   Like Senator Kelly Ayotte, Senator Clair McCaskill is a former prosecutor.

Senator Clair McCaskill:  Rape is the crime of a coward.  Rapists in the ranks are masquerading as real members of our military because our military is not about cowards.  Now our military does an amazing job of training.  I am so proud of our military.  But, unfortunately, I believe that this is not a crime that we're going to train our way out of because the crime of rape has nothing to do with sexual gratification, it has nothing to do with dirty jokes, and frankly there are a lot of studies that say it's not even connected necessarily with people who like to look at bad or dirty pictures.  It's a crime of assault, power, domination.  And I believe, based on my years of experience, that the only way that victims of sexual assault are going to feel empowered in the military is when they finally believe that the focus on the military is to get these guys and put them in prison.  So I believe that the focus of our efforts should be on effective prosecution and what do we need to do to make sure that these investigations are done promptly and professionally, that the victims are wrapped in good information, solid support and legal advice.  That the prosecutors have the wherewithal and the resources to go forward in a timely and aggressive way; and you don't have the ability of some general somewhere who's never heard the testimony of factual witnesses in a consent case can wipe it out with a stroke of a pen.  And so what I would like from you all -- your cases, they're all compelling, they're all moving -- I, like Senator Graham, am infuriated at that chaplain, I'm infuriated with the notion that some of the men who put up with what happened to you or even perpetrated what happened to you are still serving in our military.   I would like to hear from you -- especially those whose cases were more recent -- what happened when you reported in terms of getting good legal information about what your rights were and what to expect?

Rebekah Havrilla: Thank you, Senator McCaskill.  As mentioned, I had none.  When my friend notified me that he had found the pictures of my rape online, again, it was kind of a -- it was kind of a spur of the moment decision of, "Okay, this is enough.  This has gone on long enough.  I'm going to do an investigation.  Like this is ridiculous."

Senator Clair McCaskill:  If I could go back to your initial decision --

Rebekah Havrilla:  Mmm-hmm.

Senator Clair McCaskill: -- because we know that there is a huge number of these cases, that there's never a restricted or an unrestricted report.  Just so we make the record clear, a restricted report is kept for five years and an unrestricted report is kept for 20 years.

Rebekah Havrilla:  I believe those have now changed.  I believe that restricted reports are to be kept for fifty but previously there was a much lower cap on that correct.

Senator Clair McCaskill:  Okay.  Well whatever the amount is, the difference between a restricted report and an unrestricted report is how timely we can get after it because, if it's a restricted report, it's not going to be investigated.

Rebekah Havrilla:  Correct.  You basically just become a statistic. 

Senator Clair McCaskill:  So if in fact one of the reasons you may your report restricted was the unique nature of the victim being embedded with her perpetrator in a work environment that is intense and depends on working together, what would have happened when you went in if you were told that if there is probably cause found in the next thirty days that this crime was committed, your perpetrator would be removed from the unit, what would your response have been?

Rebekah Havrilla:  It probably would have been worth considering. At that point, you have a timeline, a light at the end of the tunnel so to speak, with set standards and guidelines of 'okay, this will happen in the event that this and this are found.'  Again, everybody -- When you're in the middle of it, you look back -- I look back on it with kind of 20/20 or Monday morning quarter back style and you're like, "Oh, I can look back on this and I might have done it differently," but when you're in the middle of it, it's extremely difficult to be able to think clearly.  I mean, it's-it's a huge trauma, it effects your mental health, it effects how you see the world, how you see yourself.  But, had I had more information, had there been some kind of recourse of saying, you know, this isn't about me, this is about him, and had there been probable cause for some kind of prosecution, and I was actually asked later, when I did my full investigation, they said, "If they find enough are you willing to take this to court-martial?"  And I said, "Yes, absolutely."  But, in the beginning, that wasn't even an option for me, that wasn't something given to me and, again, we can do the what-ifs all we want and looking forward, I'm a different person than I was.  And I were to be in the same situation and have that happen to me, I would say, "Yes, absolutely.  I'm willing to take that as far.  This perpetrator is going to be done in 30 days or at least the potential for that thereof, let's move forward with this."

Senator Clair McCaskill:  Do you feel like your SARC, your Special Advocate that you talked to, do you feel like they were neutral, supportive, tried to talk you out of it, tried to talk you into it?

Rebekah Havrilla:  Uhm, most of them are very supportive and they wanted to be helpful but they all understood that their hands were tied as to what they could actually do for you as a victim.  They kind of -- When I -- When I went in to do my restricted reporting against my rapist, I had mentioned in passing the constant sexual harassment and sexual assault of my team leader and they said, "Oh, do you want to do a report against him too?"  And I was like, "I hadn't even thought of that but sure why not."  They weren't pressuring me anything, it was just kind of a you are -- you have the option also of making a restricted report against this individual, is that something that you're willing to do?  At that time, my end of the tunnel, my light at the end was that I had 60 days and I was out of the Army and that's all I wanted.  I wanted to be out, I wanted to be done.  I wanted to be away from the unit that I was in.

Senator Clair McCaskill:  Mr. Lewis, what about you?  Did you feel like the point and time you reported anywhere that there was any legal help or any kind of help at all that would have allowed you to move forward with some kind of effort too?  And is your perpetrator still in the Navy?

Brian K. Lewis:  I honestly don't know and, at this point, I hope that I've moved forward enough away from it that I don't care.  It has to be about me at this point not what my perpetrator did.

Senator Clair McCaskill:  I appreciate that but I care, just so you know.  I care.

Brian K. Lewis:  I appreciate that, Senator.  But honestly when -- when the situation came to light there was an eerie silence that emanated from the JAG office.

Senator Clair McCaskill:  And what year was this?

Brian K. Lewis:  2000.  And it was like a black hole had all the sudden surrounded the JAG office because the Judge Advocate General of that command is subordinate to the commanding officer. At some point it becomes about the preservation of their own career than about helping me and, no, there was no effective, legal situation that I could access, Senator.

Senator Clair McCaskill:  Well my time is out. I do want to say that I do -- I've spent a number of hours with amazing professional prosecutors in the area of sexual assault at the Pentagon on Monday -- decades of experience.  And I do feel that there is some progress being made in some branches -- some more than others -- recognizing that they have failed at getting after this and doing what our military usually does best and that is: Focus on a mission and make it happen.  And what you all are doing today allows us to focus on the mission to get the coward rapists out of the ranks.  And we're going to do everything we can to make that happen so thank you all very much for being here.


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