Sunday, February 11, 2007

Women and the military

Nature of offense. Conduct violative of this article is action or behavior in an official capacity which, in dishonoring or disgracing the person as an officer, seriously compromises the officer’s character as a gentleman, or action or behavior in an unofficial or private capacity which, in dishonoring or disgracing the officer personally, seriously compromises the person’s standing as an officer. There are certain moral attributes common to the ideal officer and the perfect gentleman, a lack of which is indicated by acts of dishonesty, unfair dealing, indecency, indecorum, lawlessness, injustice, or cruelty. Not everyone is or can be expected to meet unrealistically high moral standards, but there is a limit of tolerance based on customs of the service and military necessity below which the personal standards of an officer, cadet, or midshipman cannot fall without seriously compromising the person’s standing as an officer, cadet, or midshipman or the person’s character as a gentleman. This article prohibits conduct by a commissioned officer, cadet or midshipman which, taking all the circumstances into consideration, is thus compromising. This article includes acts made punishable by any other article, provided these acts amount to conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. Thus, a commissioned officer who steals property violates both this article and Article 121. Whenever the offense charged is the same as a specific offense set forth in this Manual, the elements of proof are the same as those set forth in the paragraph which treats that specific offense, with the additional requirement that the act or omission constitutes conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman.

The above is from Rod Powers' page on the issue of conduct unbecoming an officer. Allow us to suggest a court-martial after having endured the kangaroo proceedings last week. Military justice (or 'justice') meet Lt. Col. Bruce Antonia. In his official capacity, Antonia testified on Tuesday in the Ehren Watada court-martial. As Mike Barber (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) reported, Antonia testified:

Everything you put on a soldier's plate prior to deployment is magnified. What should be on their minds is getting their weapons zeroed, making final preparations, kissing their wives and children goodbye, not what Lt. Watada is going to say next.

We'll assume most of our regular readers will get how offensive that is but for the slow witted visitors, a few facts and figures.

The US Census Bureau states 215,243 women serve in the military (as of 2003) and that there are 1.7 million "military veterans who are women." Linda Wertheimer (NPR) reported in 2005 that the number of women serving had increased to 350,000 ("almost 15 percent of active duty personnel") and that "one in every seven troops in Iraq is a woman." ICCC notes that 71 US troops who have died while serving in Iraq were women.

The women above are dishonored by Antonia's statements that service members should be focused on "kissing their wives". It's a stupid statment, it's a pig headed statement and there's no excuse for it to be made in 2007. But it goes to the culture and the military's refusal to address that problems within that culture.

Do you know the name Michael Sydney? As Cheryl Seelhoff reported in Off Our Backs (vol 35, no 2, p. 22), Sgt. Sydney was found guilty, July 2006, "of pandering, mistreating, subordinates, and obstruction of justice, smong other things, for what amounts to his having pimped women under his command. Sydney threatened to extend the tour of duty of female erservists called to active duty if they did not have sex with his superior officers." The brave US military 'justice' system did not court-martial him but they did give him a slap on the wrist: "sentence to six months in jail." Where does someone like Syndey get the idea that women in the military can be used as whores? The same attitude that Antonia expressed which renders service members as males (with wives to kiss) and women invisible.

In the same edition of Off Our Backs, Allison Tobey (p. 16) noted Col Janis Karpinski's testimony that General Ricardo Sanchez issued an order barring "dehydration" being noted as cause of death on the death certificates of female service members. Why? Because, according to Karpinski, women were dying from that "because they did not drink liquids in the afternoons in an effort to avoid going to the latrines at night, where they were afrid male soldiers would rape them." Sanchez' 'solution' didn't address the problem, it hid it -- as too many 'solutions' to the abuse and mistreatment of women in the military repeatedly does.

In the January 2007 edition of The Progressive, Traci Hukill examined sexual harassment and sexual assualt in the military and cited a VA report from 2003 (lead to Congress in 2005) which found "60 percent of women and 27 percent of men had experience Military Sexual Trauma" and that it "found the prevalence of actual sexual assualt -- 'unwanted sexual conduct of a physical nature' -- to be 23 percent among female reservists." Hukill also notes:

Since 2002, the Pentagon has logged 546 cases of sexual assault in Centeral Command (CENTCOM), the administrative territory encompassing Afghanistan and Iraq. The real figures are very likely much higher.
[. . .]
Last year, the Pentagon received reports of 2,374 rapes or attempted rapes from all of its bases worldwide, about 40 percent more than the year before. But that's probably just a fraction of the real number. One reason the crime still goes unreported may lurk in the annual report: Last year, just seventy-nine servicemembers were court-martialed for sexual assault. Why bother reporting if nothing will happen to the perpetrator?

Or, we'd add, why bother reporting it when, if someone repeatedly 'pimps' women serving under them, threatens them with extended deployments, videotapes the forced sexual acts and ends up with no court-martial and no real punishment (the abuse of authority and the crimes warranted more than six months in jail)?

In a 1994 sexual harassment survey conducted by the Department of Defense, 72% of women serving in the military who were harassed but did not report it stated that "they did not think anything would be done," "they thought it would make their work situations unpleasant," and they "thought they would be labeled troublemakers." (Note that respondents must have been able to check off more than one because the total of all responses adds up to much greater than 100% -- 54% responded they addressed the issue themselves.) The same study found that only a third of women who reported the harrassment felt their complaints were adequately addressed.

More recently (March 19, 2005), Daneil de Vise (Washington Post) reported on a Defense Department study on military academies:

One female student in seven attending the nation's military academies last spring said she had been sexually assaulted since becoming a cadet or midshipman, according to a report on the first survey of sexual misconduct on the three campuses released yesterday by the Defense Department.
More than half the women studying at the Naval, Air Force and Army academies reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment on campus, according to survey responses. But few of those incidents, and only a third of the assaults, were reported to authorities. A new confidentiality policy for assault victims, also released yesterday, attempts to improve reporting of sex crimes on military campuses.

Months after that was reported, The Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies was finally created (September 23, 2004). The military has been consistently slow to respond.

Enter Suzanne Swift. Swift self-checked out of the US military after serving in Iraq. Last summer, there was a push to make her a war resister. We don't believe she was one. We do believe that pushing the war resister angle destroyed the support she should have received.

Swift was repeatedly sexually assaulted while serving in Iraq by her superior. When she attempted to go through channels, the response can be boiled down to as: "You must be doing something to entice him." She was ignored, she was dismissed and she was left with no one to help her. Doing what is entirely reasonable when trapped in such a situation, Swift self-checked out while back in the United States.

The military did one of their generic whitewashes (we firmly believe every abuse Swift reported did take place) and even the whitewash found some basis to her reports. But Swift is back serving, after thirty days in jail. She is a victim of sexual abuse and the military refused to address it while she was serving and it was happening. Suzanne Swift has now been sent back into the same environment. Similar assaults may not happen now, she may have an 'off limits' placed on her that's so clear everyone grasps it. That really doesn't matter.

A victim of sexual assault whom the system willingly failed has been placed in that environment again. She has never been provided with treatment by the military to deal with the assaults and traumas. She has been placed back in the environment in which it all went down. It's similar to a court sentencing a woman raped on the job (in the civilian world) to return to the environment and without any counseling.

To say "That's not justice" is to under state. That is abuse. She was assaulted and the military ignored her reports, refused to address the situation and now they've refused to discharge her. The victim is being punished and that should disturb and trouble you. Swift should have received an immediate honorable discharge as well as an apology from the military for what was allowed to happen before and after she reported it. That didn't happen.

How does Swift, someone who signed up to serve her country, end up being expected to serve the sexual needs of a superior? Because of statements like Lt. Col. Antonio's which express the very real attitude that the military belongs to men and any women who step inside that circle are fair game for whatever any male wants to do to them. That attitude is reinforced when the 'pimp' isn't court-martialed, when harassment and rapes aren't investigated (let alone punished) and when women on bases in Iraq are told to travel in pairs to the showers to prevent rape.

Let's repeat that. The US military's 'answer' for the abuse and assault of women serving in Iraq (by US troops) is to suggest that women buddy up when going to the showers to prevent rape. Now buddy up may be a suggestion that flies in a city or town. But the military is supposed to be made up of chain of command and orders. But somehow prevention of assault is something that's portrayed as 'personal' responsibility and not a policy.

If you're a visitor and you still don't get how offensive Antonia's comments were, how disgraceful his testimony was, we refer you to Marjorie Cohn's report (Truthout) on Janis Karpinski's testimony on Sanchez' expressed attitude: "The women asked to be here, so now let them take what comes with the territory." They asked to be there, but they don't belong -- that's the attitude. It's the same attitude Antonia expresses when he refers to the need for service members to be focused on "kissing their wives goodbye." It's an attitude that says women don't belong.

A lot of time was spent last week on the supposed disgrace Ehren Watada had brought to the military in public statements he made on his time. Lt. Col. Antonia testified in a court-martial in an official capacity and what he expressed was disgraceful. We won't hold our breath waiting for the court-martial of Antonia because, as disgusting and "unbecoming" as his attitude expressed is, it's fairly common in the military and they've demonstrated no real desire to change.
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