Tuesday, June 11, 2013

I swear to support, and defend...

My friend (DG) asked me to comment on the current scandal (or as I would call it, extraordinarily disgusting and massive national embarrassment) involving the US military, specifically the gut-wrenchingly sickening conduct of members of the US military who have raped their fellow service members or civilians under their protection AND the nearly equally disgusting and abusive conduct of certain of their superior officers (and NCO's) who have excused, lied about, covered-up and consequently tacitly condoned those rapes. The latter conduct, the lack of action, the excusing, the blaming of the victim, has lead to (or perhaps perpetuated) a culture of indifference and fear in the military among females (principally) so pervasive that it is suspected that less than 10% of all assaults are reported. Personally, I think that culture of indifference has ALSO lead to more rapes since many in the military who might otherwise not have acted criminally, knowing there was little chance of reprisal, decided they could act upon their anger and brutalize their "brothers and sisters" in arms or the vulnerable citizenry with whom they interacted and in both cases, who trusted them.

My revulsion at the conduct of my former brothers in arms is something I cannot adequately express. There are no words. To even conceive of fellow soldiers, sailors, and airmen/women of the US Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Air Force pulling some schoolgirl (or boy) from their class room, trapping some fellow service member in a closet, using their superior strength to restrain them, and then violating them violently and physically - (sorry for the imagery here boys and girls, but you need to TRULY consider what's going on), it's the putrid conduct of a truly ill mind. I don't say ill in the sense of someone needing medical attention, though they might, I mean ill in the sense of someone revolting and disgusting. There is no excuse, the violence of combat, the derision occupying troops feel toward the occupied, none of it excuses this kind of thing. Nothing a civilian population does excuses attacking your fellow service members, and unless you're unhinged, nothing one person does, justifies taking that anger out on another, purely innocent person.

And that's the other equally important point here. Rape, while a violation of another by or to their genital organs/areas is NOT principally motivated by sexual desire, nor is it principally a sexual act. In the mind of the rapist it is an act of violence, an act of domination. It is punishment for the past wrongs of other women, it is domination of other males, it is retribution for the car bombs, it is an expression of the power soldiers wielded "in country"and their unwillingness to restrain that power out of country or to not use it against those who are at their mercy. It is a corruption of the mind that leads to believing that forcing someone to do for you or to suffer from you, sexual acts quite simply because YOU want to do something and what they want doesn't matter.

And then let's go further, it ISN'T that he or she (the victim) actually "wanted" it. It isn't about mistaken understanding of attraction, or some "morning after" regret. I've dated enough women to know when "No" is serious or when someone is simply playing a little bit, being just a little coy, and there's no confusion, no ambiguity. A woman (or a man) who is simply teasing a little makes it clear they are looking for a little bit more wooing, a person who means no is clear that's not what they want, they are not physically responsive in the manner that anyone would confuse with desire for furthering the level of intimacy. They seek to remove themselves (often), maybe they say "stop", but through some manner or another, it's clear they have no interest. There's a reason legally the standard is saying "no" once is sufficient, and that is, because it is. So let's toss out the entire idea that rape is simply amorous desire being confused. It isn't, it's the imposition of will, whether or not it started off with some level of physical intimacy, it's a decision to force contact when the other says "stop", and prior conduct of the victim doesn't matter. The line changes over to a decision to escalate to force to get what someone "wants" - and what they want is domination, it's not really about sex, and domination is the answer for the attacker when some other manner doesn't work.  In many cases it's the preferred answer.

So, next let me say what I think of things "all things Military" about this. I think soldiers who engage in this are pigs, thugs, sick and worse. They deserve to be prosecuted, they deserve to lose their liberty. I used to tell soldiers that should they seek to harm a prisoner or civilian in my presence whom they had captured or were charged with safeguarding and that prisoner or civilian posed no threat to them, that I would, should it be required, stop them up to and including shooting them if they disobeyed the order to stop. This situation is identical, I would willingly shoot any fellow service member who did not desist from this sort of conduct were I to come upon it. I would "happily" sit on any Courts Marshall board in judgement and equally "happily" hand out the most severe sentence possible. To my mind, there is no excuse, so I would not accept one. Not ever.  I would also happily convict anyone who stood by and allowed, who assisted in restraining a victim, they're barely less guilty of the crime than is the attacker.

And that then goes to the problem the military faces. In addition to the rampant level of sexual assault, far in excess of the civilian world, the military faces a plague of male-centric bias and thinking. Bias which says only forcible rape is rape, that rape is an expression of sexual desire, that it's just "desire gone astray" and even worse, that violence upon indigenous populations is occasionally "something to be understood." It happens that sort of violence, certainly, it happened during WWII against Japanese soldiers, it was wrong, but there was a level of brutality which was hard to "switch off" in the heat of combat. I am and I'd be willing to grant a bit of leniency in those cases, but leniency only and but NEVER to fully excuse the action and certainly never to be lenient about it for conduct from the heat of combat. Soldiers who cannot shut off that violence are a danger to themselves and others and they must be counselled that should they feel that way.  They should be told should they feel that way, they need to seek assistance. We can no longer agree that the right course of action is to "bottle it up". Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is real and must be treated so that people with rage and/or an inability to "switch off" do not harm their families, their brothers/sisters in arms or themselves. But that has nothing to do with the excusal of rape. There are numerous examples of officers and NCO's intimidating victims, squashing evidence, refusing to prefer charges. Of the more than 3000 reported sexual assaults in the US military in 2011, only about 550 had charges brought against the accused, and of those only about 200 went to trial with less than 100 having had convictions achieved. This means, of 19000 overall rapes (3000 reported, 16000 unreported according to DoD estimates) only 1 of every 200 cases resulted in someone being punished. Even worse, in a few cases, the convictions were "set aside" by superior officers. The latter conduct, while not common, is disgusting in and of itself, and in all cases, case of intimidation, of quashing of evidence of blaming the victim, and except for a rare kind of case I'll talk about in a moment, all of the situations where someone set aside a verdict, all of them should result in the termination of the career of the involved superior (NCO or officer). Under-reporting of rape is a national embarrassment in the civilian world, the victims are ashamed, it is exponentially worse in the military.  Conduct of their superiors should not compound it. In any organization which prides itself on professionalism, this kind of pre-historic attitude has no place. The officers and service people of the military need immediate, remedial education on what rape is, on what their responsibilities are to protect civilian lives, on the risk they create for the future when they fail to live up to those responsibilities.

Lastly and importantly, the Uniform Code of Military Justice is a harsh mistress. The rules for conviction, of evidence, are harshly tilted in the government's favor. There are no habeas corpus protections, no protections against random search, no exclusionary rules (by and large). There is a reason, in warfare you need unwavering discipline, it isn't a playground and failure to obey often equates to death. Consequently officers are granted great latitude and freedom to bring about "good order and discipline." Soldiers can be convicted of simply "disgracing" the uniform, and the punishment can be severe. Conviction is commonplace, not rare, certainly not the minority. It is quite simply because the system is "rigged" so heavily in favor of the accusers (the military) bringing the charges. It is also because officers empanelled by their commanding officer go IN knowing their CO wouldn't have empanelled them without the belief that the accused was a good candidate for being guilty if not firmly convinced of guilt. As a consequence, rates of conviction are normally VERY high, not below 50% as is the case for rape cases tried in the military. This suggests two things, the first is bad, the second is the rare circumstance. The "bad" is that it means the military has a real perception problem about what is permissible by soldiers, "in country" or out, regarding sexual assault. I think the other numbers bear this out, the stories of intimidation bear this out, the stories of the victims being told to "shut up and put up" bear this out, but if people are still skeptical, consider this last point, conviction rates in the civilian world normally exceed 90% for cases brought to trial, in the military world it's higher than that. When conviction rates are 50%, that's a marker there's a real problem (which is a dog bites man thing when you consider only 1 in 200 cases result in punishment, I don't know the stats for the civilian world but I PROMISE you it's better than that). When you factor in that under the UCMJ the accused has little or no protection, getting a conviction is frankly a walk in the park in many cases, and that leads to the rare case. Rarely, VERY rarely indeed, in the military will a Courts Martial board convict someone in a manner where the evidence is flimsy enough that the CO feels the conviction isn't warranted. The CO JUST LIKE IN THE CIVILIAN WORLD A JUDGE CAN, the CO can set aside such a conviction if he/she firmly believes such a conviction is a miscarriage of justice. That right should be preserved, but it should be rare indeed. Such set asides have been rare in rape cases, and they do result in consequences for the officers, but the rates of conviction suggest that it's not because the CO felt the conviction was a miscarriage of justice but rather because, for the most part, the attitude of the military is neolithic that certain CO's have the audacity to say it wasn't rape, even when their brother officers have agreed, in the rare cases that even get to trial, that it WAS rape.

Until this systemic misogyny is dealt with, the US military has an immutable stain upon its honor. it is a broken institution, you may save 100 lives, but if in the process you butcher 50, you're still a murderer, you're still a pig, and your service stands soaked in blood. In this case it apparently stands soaked in pain, the pain caused by the deafening silence of those whom it allowed to be the victims to be violated, humiliated and ultimately cast aside. People who sacrificed their personal lives to fight for our country, to defend our homes and children. We all stand ashamed. Until this paleolithic mentality is gone, the US military should henceforth lose its ability to control its destiny on this point. Sexual assault cases should require mandatory referral to civilian courts. It may mean that officers won't have the same latitude or ability to enforce "good order and discipline" in these cases, but I'd ask you, given the vast information about the rampant level of assaults, is that good order? The discipline needed first must start with the leadership for there certainly is NONE now. Those who have failed to act, those who have sought to quash, to intimidate, no less so than those who assaulted, have violated their honor and their oaths, they have broken the most fundamental faith, they have failed to maintain faith with their fellow soldiers, sailors and airmen/women. They heard their cries and they let them suffer. Damn each one of them AND their unforgivable silence.

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