Wednesday, June 05, 2013

You can take the rat out of the hood but . . .









Senator Claire McCaskill:  I have spent -- as many of you know, hours and hours with your prosecutors over the last several months, I've had long conversations with several of you at the table including those who are heading up our various branches.  I want to start with the fact that I think part of the problem here is you all mushed together two separate issues in ways that are not helpful to successful prosecution.   There are two problems.  One is you have sexual predators who are committing crimes.  Two, you have work to do on the issue of a respectful and healthy work environment.  These are not the same issues.  And with all due respect, General Odierno, we can prosecute our way out of the first issue.   We can prosecute our way out of the problem of sexual predators -- who are not committing crimes of lust.  My years of experience in this area tell me they are committing crimes of  domination and violence.  This isn't about sex, this is about assault, domination and violence.  And as long as those two get mushed together, you all are not going to be as successful as you need to be at getting after the most insidious part of this which is the predators in your ranks that are sullying the great name of our American military.  I-I want to start with, I think the way you all are reporting has this backwards because you're mushing them together in the reporting.  Unwanted sexual contact is everything from somebody looking at you sideways to someone pushing you up against the wall and brutally raping you. You've got to, in your surveys, delineate the two problems because, until you do, we will have no idea whether you're getting your hands around this.  We need to know how many women and men are being raped and sexually assaulted on an annual basis and we have no idea right now.   Because all we know is we've had unwanted sexual contact: 36,000.  Well that doesn't tell us whether it's an unhealthy work environment or whether or not you've got criminals.  And you've got to change that reporting.  Success is going to look like this: More reports of rape, sodomy and assault and less incidents of rape, sodomy and assault. So everybody needs to be prepared here.  If we do a good job, that number of 3,000 the Chairman referenced, three-thousand-and-something, that's going to go up if we're doing well but overall the incidents are going to be going down.  But we have no way of being able to demonstrate that with the way you're reporting now.  

McCaskill, as Ed O'Keefe and Sean Sullivan (Washington Post) noted this morning is, "a former sex crimes prosecutor."  She was speaking this morning to the first panel appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee:  Gen Martin Dempsy (Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), Gen Ray Odierno (Chief of Staff of the Army), Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert (Chief of Naval Operations), Gen James Amos (Commandant of the Marine Corps), Gen Mark Welsh (Chief of Staff of the Air Force) and Admiral Robert Papp Jr. (Commandant of the Coast Guard), Lt Gen Dana K. Chipman, JAGC, USA Judge Advocate General of the United States Army,  Vice Admiral Nanette M. DeRenzi, JAGC, USN Judge Advocate General of the United States Navy, Lt Gen Richard C. Harding, JAGC, USAF Judge Advocate General of the United States Air Force, Maj Gen Vaughn A. Ary, USMC Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Rear Admiral  Frederick J. Kenney, Jr., USCG Judge Advocate General of the United States Coast Guard and Brig Gen Richard C. Gross, USA Legal Counsel to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In his opening remarks this morning, Senator Carl Levin, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, noted, "Seven bills related to sexual assault have been introduced in the Senate beginning in March and are now pending before the Committee."  Levin also wanted to note the passing of Senator Frank Lautenberger.  That's actually key to today's hearing.  As Betty noted last night, it's really time for either term limits (which I wouldn't support were it not for senators not having the brains to leave Congress) or a retirement age for Congress.   Ranking Member James Inhofe and Chair Carl Levin both oppose turning assault and rape over to criminal prosecutors.  They whined but they just looked like silly old men who didn't get it.  78-year-old Levin has been in the Senate since 1978.  78-year-old Inhofe has been in the US Congress since 1986.

 "Our commanders haven't had time," whined Inhofe.  Yes, they have.  They have had years.  They have had decades.  And so have Inhofe and Levin.  What you really see is They Just Don't Get It.  Today's hearing was, in many ways, like watching the Hill-Thomas hearing all over again.  The unqualified Clarence Thomas was nominated for the Supreme Court.  He harassed many females he supervised.  Anita Hill came forward.  As she told her story, a fearful bunch of elderly men couldn't support her -- in part due to the press backlash created by cretins like David Brock who now admits to falsely smearing Anita Hill and now admits that, yes, all the details about Clarence were probably true, but Thomas already has a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court so, David Brock, your late-life conversion is really too damn late.

Inhofe, explaining his objection to criminal procedures for rape and assault in the military, insisted, "We must remember that the military is, by necessity, uniquely separate from the civilian society.  Military service requires those who serve to give up certain rights and privileges that civilians enjoy." Rape and assault are crimes.  No one gives up their 'right' not to be raped.  What a stupid, stupid man.

He and Levin both wanted to invoke when the military was segregationist on race and when gays and lesbians couldn't serve openly.  Those are not the same things.  Discrimination is wrong.  It is not the same thing as rape.  If they were attempting to compare it to a hate crime attack on an African-American or a gay or a lesbian, they failed to make that comparison and left it at discrimination.  Sexism is discrimination.  They didn't note that but it is.  And it's wrong.  But it's not assault and rape either.

As one female veteran said to me after the hearing, referring to so many of the entrenched males on the Committee, "When do you think was the last time any of them felt unsafe or vulnerable?"  A very good question.

One exception was Senator John McCain who's 76-years-old and has been in the Senate since 1987.  If McCain was a pleasant and needed exception, in his questioning it was underscored, again, that the lack of comprehension is not gender specific.

Senator John McCain:  Admiral DeRenzi, you've had a long experience with these issues.  Is the problem better, worse or the same?

Vice Admiral Nanette M. DeRenzi:  Sir, do you mean sexual assault issues in general?

Senator John McCain:  Yes.

Vice Admiral Nanette M. DeRenzi:  I think the problem is improving.  I was a junior officer during Tailhook and I can tell you that I do not recall the training efforts, the response, the prevention, the attention on our ability to prosecute, uhm, offenders -- reaching down from leadership to the deck plate level at that time.  I would tell you that in the time since, and now, I see a difference.  I see a difference in the leadership, I see a difference in how the Judge Advocates are trained to respond and support and I see a tremendous difference in the prevention and response efforts.

Tailhook was the biggest military assault scandal of its time (1991).  Jone Johnson Lewis (Women's History) notes what happened to Lt Paula Coughlin:

At that convention, after she exited from an elevator, she found herself in a crowd of men who grabbed at her breasts, crotch, and buttocks, and attempted to remove her clothes, despite her protests. Later, others were also found to have been subjected to similar treatment. She sued after her boss, Admiral John W. Snyder, told her "That's what you get" when encountering "drunken aviators."

Frontline (PBS) explains, "At the 35th Annual Tailhook Symposium (September 5 to 7, 1991) at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel, 83 women and 7 men were assaulted during the three-day aviators' convention, according to a report by the Inspector General of the Department of Defense (DOD)."

It outraged the American public (also because of the spending of taxpayer dollars which included the transportation of an artificial rhino out of whose penis would pour booze).  That's the base line for Vice Admiral Nanette M. DeRenzi?  If that's her baseline or anyone else's they are seriously screwed up.  'Since the big assault scandal where nearly 100 people were assaulted at a function the US taxpayers paid for, things have gotten better.'  I'm sorry, could they have gotten worse?

In July of 1992, Newsweek reported, "Last week the Senate Armed Services Committee froze 4,500 promotions, retirements and changes of command, Chairman Sam Nunn said the ban would come off only after the navy identified and punished the assailants." Tailhook is not your reference point.

Tailhook was unacceptable.  Tailhook shocked the nation.  Over 20 years later, we would all expect Tailhook to be a thing of the past.

DeRenzi is the problem according to two female veterans who spoke with me after the hearing.  Like so many of her generation, she's so damn grateful that Tailhook can't happen that she's more than willing to see the continued assaults and rapes as "an improvement."  After that all time low, any crumbs have been seen by her as "improvements."  These are crimes that are taking place and they are unacceptable.  The lack of progress is also unacceptable.

Senator Joe Manchin noted Tailhook and then went through a lengthy list of many of the other rape and assault scandals since.  He declared, "After each of these instances, Dept of Defense leaders all said, 'Never again' or used phrases like 'zero tolerance.'  So I guess I would ask: What's different this time?  What's different this time if we have a history of this repeating itself and nothing ever being done?  What is different now?"

Gen Martin Dempsy insisted, "I think what happened in the 90s is we focused on victim protection.  We immediately focused our attention on victim protection" versus prosecution.  No, they didn't focus on victim protection.  If that was focusing on victim protection, what a lousy job they did.

Dempsy only sounded more stupid as he proceeded.  The problem? He thinks maybe it's the effect of the wars on service members.  "When they come out of this conflict, they engage in some high risk behavior,"  he stated.  High risk behavior can be many things -- self-medicating, for example.  Rapists are not engaging in "high risk behavior," they're engaging in crimes.

I think Senator Claire McCaskill made great points but I think she missed one.  It wasn't by accident that two separate things were being mushed together.  They really don't see a difference between some guy starting at a woman's breasts while she's trying to work and some guy raping a woman.  They don't see a difference.  And they don't grasp that it's not about attraction or desire or sex.  They can't get that through their heads.

The editorial board of the Cleveland Plain Dealer argued today:

It's not enough. The Uniform Code of Military Justice needs updating.
Right now under the UCMJ, commanders can unilaterally toss out charges and even overturn guilty verdicts in sexual assault cases. Earlier this year, an Air Force lieutenant general did just that in overruling a court-martial jury's finding of guilt against an Air Force lieutenant colonel.
A move in Congress to take sexual assault cases out of the chain of command and assign them instead to military judges makes a great deal of sense. 

 That's what had the generals in a panic, that power might be lost.  It should be.  But when Manchin raised it, Gen James Amos was the first to object, insisting that taking this "from the chain of command is absolutely the wrong direction to go."  (Manchin also pointed out that all the people in charge facing the Committee, the generals, were all men and that even the Senate was more gender diverse.) (There are 99 US senators.  20 are women.  Prior to Senator Frank Lautenberg's death yesterday, there were 100.  His spot has not yet been filled.)

Nothing's improved.  Not only that, when the issue of not allowing convicted rapists in the ranks, to discharging them immediately if their presence was detected, the generals wanted to offer that they supported that except for some 'technical positions.'  No.  They don't get how serious this is.

They don't want to lose their power, but they don't get how serious rape is.  Adm Jonathan Greenheart, for example, spoke of how "the victim" returns to serve after a conviction and he apparently can't protect "the victim" if he doesn't have this power.

Adm Jonathan Greenheart: Senator [Manchin], I don't know how to take it out of the chain of command and then, in the continuum of responsibility and authority that we tell our people that they're responsible for the welfare -- and this goes to training, all the way through combat, all of that, how you take that part out of it and then-then you put the-the-the victim back in -- if they come back -- or the report is reviewed, the investigation is reviewed, and they say, 'Well here you go, it's back again.'  I just don't understand how to do that yet.  

"It can confuse the crew," he insisted at the end of his ramble.  Really?  Members of the military can't grasp criminal convictions?  I thought they were all adults?  Well, if that's really the case, I guess they'll need to add a day into training where they offer a seminar or two on what a criminal conviction is.

Senator Joe Donnelly:  Why would a soldier think less of their commander just because a commander didn't handle this area?

Gen Ray Odierno:  Well having been a commander in combat on three occasions --

Senator Joe Donnelly:  Right.

Gen Ray Odierno:  I would tell you that's essential because they -- they depend upon you for everything that goes on in that unit.  And one of the things that we've talked about by the way is this threat about retaliation.  That's not going to change if you take it outside the chain of command. You still have the threat of retaliation.

 The brass likes to pay lip service to civilian control but they don't really respect that aspect of the US Constitution and that was on full display.  I like Odierno but he's speaking from fear and panic and embarrassing himself.   Let's stage his little one-act play.

Sunday Comes With Tension opens with Lt Barbara Garfield explaining she was raped to Odierno.  She is filing charges against her assailant.  The next scene is Odierno learning that her rapist has been convicted.  The scene after that is Garfield back with her unit.  Because there was a criminal conviction, playwright Odierno insists, there is now a chance that his drama ends with a "retaliation" rape on Garfield or some other form of retaliation.

He can't control a unit, he insists, if he doesn't have that power.  How ridiculous is that?

When the US military was all male, rape did take place.  It didn't get reported.  And this 'power' Odierno insists must be his didn't even exist -- not to deal with rape, not to deal with sexual assault.

This is power the US military created for itself in the second half of the 20th century.  They've done a lousy job with that power and it's time for the brass to surrender it.

 Among the seven bills Chair Carl Levin was noting at the top of the hearing is Senators Kelly Ayotte and Patty Murray's "Combating Military Sexual Assault (MSA) Act of 2013."  Their offices issued a joint-statement today:

June 4, 2013
Contact: Meghan Roh, 202-224-2834 (Murray)
Contact: Liz Johnson, 202-224-3324 (Ayotte)


Bipartisan Murray-Ayotte legislation would expand Air Force program and provide trained military lawyers to victims of sexual assault in all service branches

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today focused on efforts to stop sexual assaults in the military, Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh praised the success of an Air Force pilot program that provides victims with a military lawyer to assist sexual assault victims through the legal process.  A key provision in the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act, introduced by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) on May 7, would expand the successful Air Force program to all service branches by providing victims of sexual assault with a Special Victims’ Counsel – a trained and certified military lawyer to assist the victim throughout the process.
In response to a question from Senator Ayotte, General Welsh testified that responses from victims regarding the Air Force’s Special Victims’ Counsel pilot program have been “overwhelmingly positive.”  He testified earlier in the hearing that he intends to recommend the continuation of the program.
Air Force Chief of Staff, General Mark Welsh:
“Feedback from the victims has been very, very positive.  We believe the program is working very well for us, we’re excited about where it’s going….I’m going to recommend to my Secretary that we continue the program…”
“The positive return rate is about 95 percent on these surveys, overwhelmingly positive about the benefits of having someone who understood the legal process, who was by their side supporting them primarily the entire time, who shielded them from unnecessary questioning, who helped them understand the intricacies and the confusion and the tax law of the legal system that they're now in.”
“The special victims counsel, in my mind, is one of the set of game-changing things that can help us in this area across the spectrum of issues related to sexual assault. Right now it's the only one we have found that is really gaining traction.”
Colonel Jeannie Leavitt, Commander, 4th Fighter Wing, U.S. Air Force:
The special victims’ counsel…gives the victim a voice.”

 This was an all day hearing.  The above only touches on three hours. (The thing was a little short of eight hours long.)   I may cover the second panel, I may not.  But I will cover the third panel in tomorrow's snapshot.  This hearing went on way too long.  I do understand why it was structured the way it was. (And was honestly thrilled when Chair Carl Levin announced, right before the three hour mark as questioning of the first panel continued, that the panel would not have a second round of questioning.)  Having all the chiefs there on one panel was important.  The second panel was composed of people most likely to work through any legal process within the military with those who've been assaulted or raped and the the third panel were experts on the topic.

But five hours is too much for the nightly news.  There's no real exploration.  I think it would have been smarter, if the point was to make an impact on this issue, to have scheduled three brief hearings, one each day over a three day period, so that what was taking place could be absorbed.

 Yesterday, we attended the House  Oversight Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government hearing on the IRS scandal.  We covered it in yesterday's snapshot, Ava covered it in "Kaptor should resign and give Kucinich the seat," Wally covered it in "The IRS hands out money to employees like its candy (Wally)" and Kat covered it in "The menace named Marcy."  Tonight?  No one wants to cover this hearing.  It's too much.  No one wants to leaf through all the pages of notes.  It's too much.  The hearing defeated itself.  Congress needs to think about that when scheduling hearings.  There were too many witnesses on the first panel.  It should have just been the chiefs.  No need for the rest on the first panel.  There was way too much information to be conveyed.  I've frankly done a lousy job above because there are a number of senators that did a good job and we've only noted a few.  I need to note that Gen James Amos did refer to assault and rape as "crimes."  He did that repeatedly, including in his opening statement.  We will note that Iraq War veteran Kayla Williams has a column entitled "Seven Misconceptions About Military Sexual Assault" (The Daily Beast).

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