Today is our 4,027th day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing war, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 2,135
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1, 065
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 383, 278, 425, 000 .00
I've got three things this morning....perhaps interconnected.
We'll begin in Washington, DC. It's a typical American story; a young child becomes enamored with the military and decides on it as a career from an early age. Graduating #4 from OCS, it's on to an illustrious career and maybe the Pentagon. Except....it's a young woman who had these dreams, a dream sidetracked by rape.
From the time she was a little girl, Claire Russo knew she wanted to be a Marine.
“When I was 10 and when I was 18 and when I was 23, the reason never changed. They were the toughest,” said Russo in an interview with Natalie Morales broadcast Thursday on NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams.
The native of Washington, D.C., stuck to her dream, graduating No. 4 in her class from officer candidate school in 2003. Her father, Ken Wilkinsen, watched her commissioning with pride.
“This colonel came up,” Wilkinsen recalled. “He said, ‘If we had more of her type here... my job would be a lot easier.’”
Russo began what she thought would be a long career in the military, but her work as an intelligence officer was upended when she was sexually assaulted by a fellow Marine in November 2004.
“I love this country,” said the 32-year-old Russo. “But, you know, there’s a wound that will never heal. I gave the Marine Corps everything and it took from me something that I’m never going to get back.”
Russo is one of the thousands of members of the Armed Forces who have been sexually assaulted while serving their country. Last year, 3,192 service members across all branches of the military reported sexual assaults. Based on anonymous surveys of active-duty service members conducted in 2010, the Department of Defense says the number of incidents was closer to 19,000. Of the cases that are reported, only a fraction are prosecuted in the military justice system.
Attorney Susan Burke has filed several lawsuits against the top brass at the Department of Defense on behalf of sexual assault victims, charging they’ve been deprived of their due process.
“What all of us expect as Americans is an impartial system of justice. We don’t know the judge. We don’t know the jurors,” Burke said. “That’s not what is happening in the military. In the military, the commanders get to decide based on their own impressions of the two people coming forward who to believe. ”
Russo’s case was shut down by the Marine Corps, but since her assault happened off base, she was able to seek justice in the civilian court system. Recalling the November 2004 night she was assaulted is still upsetting to Russo. She attended the Marine Corps Ball at a San Diego, Calif., hotel with her cousin, Tom, a Navy F-18 aviator. Tom introduced her to a fellow marine, Doug Dowson. Dowson bought her a drink and said he’d take her to a room party.
Russo said that after accepting the drink from Dowson, things started “to get a little hazy.” Russo said that she felt like she’d been drugged. A drug test taken over 24 hours after the assault was inconclusive.
“The next thing I remember is being on the ground in the bathroom. He was holding me down and sodomizing me and at that point, I was just crying and begging him to stop,” said Russo through tears.
“As the investigation progressed, as the command briefings and evidence and investigative reports were presented to the command of the accused, it was very apparent that they were going to take no action,” Paton said.
Paton broke the news to Russo, but neither of them was prepared to give up.
We'll stay with the lawsuit angle; Ms Russo is not the only one. There's been a recent suit filed by seven Airmen accusing the top brass of ignoring, marginalizing and ostracizing them because they reported a sexual assault on their person.
Nineteen former and active-duty service members, including seven airmen, accuse Air Force and Army leadership of subjecting them to sexual assaults by fostering an environment that tolerated such crimes, according to a lawsuit filed Sept. 28 in U.S. District Court.
The claim is the fifth of its kind filed by Washington, D.C., attorney Susan Burke and the first that targets the Air Force. All but one of the cases is pending; a federal judge dismissed a similar lawsuit against former Defense Secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates in December.
The most recent case, filed in the court in the Northern District of California, names as defendants Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, among others. A “pattern and practice of ignoring and failing to prosecute rape and sexual assault” has led to a series of scandals, the lawsuit states, including more than a dozen military training instructors coming under investigation at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
The MTIs have been accused of crimes ranging from rape and aggravated sexual assault to improper relationships via social media.
The airmen who have filed suit include five women and two men who said they were denied due process, equal protection, free speech and the right to a jury trial after they were sexually assaulted by a fellow service member.
The suit includes the following allegations:
• A former staff sergeant said she was harassed and accused of being a liar after reporting she was sexually assaulted by a classmate at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., in 2005. Two other women had accused her alleged attacker of rape. She learned in 2010 that the commander chose not to pursue any of the allegations.
• A master sergeant who reported to the military that he was struck on the head and sexually assaulted by an officer in September 2010 was in turn charged with a series of crimes for his “participation” in the attack. The master sergeant, who said he was ostracized and retaliated against by his superiors, was cleared of all the charges. He suffers from a traumatic brain injury and PTSD. The officer was never charged with sexual assault.
• A female senior airman suffered escalating sexual harassment and assault while at Hurlburt Air Force Base, Fla., in 2004. Though she reported it to her supervisor, the case was never investigated. She ultimately submitted a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Office, which backed up her allegations. Her assailant received a letter of reprimand and remained in the service.
• A captain said he was drugged and sexually assaulted by a fellow serviceman at a party while at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. He reported the assault and sought medical attention. The captain was ordered to attend an alcohol abuse evaluation.
Burke, whose father was career Army, said she began filing the lawsuits in 2010 after she was approached by a military wife who said she was raped by a friend of her husband.
“When I looked into it, I was appalled and shocked by the state of affairs. I simply held myself out as willing to” take on these cases, she said in an interview. “I was inundated with calls. It’s a national disgrace.”
Burke assumed the military “had fixed everything” after the 1991 Navy Tailhook scandal, she said, referring to the dozens of officers accused of “improper and indecent” conduct at a Las Vegas hotel. “I was really upset and disappointed” to learn otherwise, she said.
Burke has appealed the lawsuit that was dismissed. “We think we can win,” she said.
A spokesman for Donley, Lt. Col. Samuel Highley, said the Air Force cannot comment on ongoing lawsuits.
Finally this morning....a brief look at command. I've been following this for a while; over the last year or so, 18 commanders have been relieved of command of bases, ships, and other things because of certain "improprieties". It sure makes you wonder, doesn't it?
Yet another Navy commander has been relieved of command.
This time it's Capt. James CoBell III of the Oceana Naval Air Station's Fleet Readiness Center Mid-Atlantic, based on published reports.
An investigation found CoBell used subordinates to conduct personal business, was verbally abusive to subordinates, and failed to properly account for personal leave, according to The Virginian-Pilot and Navy Times.
The Navy Times reported that CoBell is the 18th naval commander to be relieved of command this year.
In statements to The Navy Times and The Virginian-Pilot, CoBell disputed the charges. The Virginian-Pilot reported that CoBell noted the investigation dealt with allegations of fraud, waste and abuse, and a hostile work environment. CoBell denied that was the case and said the investigating officer found the allegations to be unsubstaniated.
Quoting from an email from CoBell, The Navy Times said the naval officer characterized the "command climate" while he was the executive officer and commander of FRC Mid-Atlantic as being "well within Navy norms."
While the probe was ongoing, CoBell was reassigned to the Naval Air Forces Atlantic staff. The Navy Times reported CoBell will remain there pending administrative action.
But I suppose it's all part of the current climate...what are women doing in the military anyway? Shouldn't you be home making babies or something?