Assault of military women is a war crime at home


The American public recently learned that both female U.S. soldiers taken prisoner during the gulf war were sexually assaulted by their Iraqi captors.

One flight surgeon, whose helicopter was shot down, said that an "Iraqi soldier put his hands inside her flight suit, stopped when she screamed but later molested her," according to USA Today.

I'll bet most of you, like me, were angered and disgusted when you learned of this.

So what are we to make of reports that our own military men did virtually the same thing to our own military women after the war ended?

Six months after the gulf war ended, a group of U.S. Navy aviators were flown at taxpayers' expense to the Las Vegas Hilton for a celebration. During that celebration, at least 26 women, 14 of whom were Naval officers, were molested and indecently assaulted by 70 male Naval officers, according to a report by the Naval inspector general.

According to a recent account in the New York Times: " . . . groups of officers in civilian dress suddenly turned violent, organizing with military precision into drunken gangs that shoved terrified women down the gantlet, grabbing at their breasts and buttocks and stripping off their clothes."

One 30-year-old female Naval lieutenant, an admiral's aide, told Naval investigators that a male Naval officer "grabbed me by the buttocks with such force that it lifted me off the ground and a step ahead."

Others also grabbed her, and one put his hands down her bra exactly, I imagine, like that Iraqi soldier did to our female POW.

So the question for today is this: Is what happened to those American women in Las Vegas worse or not as bad as what happened to the those American women who were taken prisoner by the Iraqis?

What the Iraqis did went somewhat further than what our Naval officers reportedly did.

But the Iraqis were enemy soldiers at war. And I suppose they would claim that America was bombing them at the time and that this mitigated their actions.

Personally, I think what they did was a war crime.

But what does that make the actions of our own Naval officers? A peace crime?

And what excuse do they have? That this is the way returning heroes are supposed to act? That this is what being a "Top Gun" is all about?

Gathering evidence of what went on at the celebration has not been easy. Many officers have thrown up a wall of silence. "A lot of the people there said they didn't see anything they considered wrong," said Robert J. Powers, director of investigations and counterintelligence for the Naval Investigative Service.

And when the admiral's aide who was assaulted complained to her boss, Rear Adm. John W. Snyder Jr., he reportedly said to her: "That's what you get for going to a hotel party with a bunch of drunk aviators." He did pass on her complaint, however.

The event at which the assaults reportedly took place was the 35th annual convention of the Tailhook Association, which is made up of Naval retirees and active-duty aviators. (A tailhook is that device that halts a plane when it lands on board an aircraft carrier. It seems a fair guess that it might also have a sexual connotation.)

The convention included female strippers, pornographic movies, male streakers and lots of booze. There were 20 suites rented by aircraft squadrons, and the alcohol bill per suite ran as high as $7,000 during the three-day event.

The Navy spent more than $190,000 to fly 1,500 officers on military planes to Vegas for the bash.

Last Wednesday, the Tailhook Association announced it was canceling its 1992 convention. "Just didn't seem appropriate," a spokesman said.

But the Navy has had problems with assaults on women in locations besides conventions. There was a female midshipman at the Naval Academy in Annapolis who was chained to a urinal by her male classmates. And female sailors say they have been forcibly stripped, assaulted and abused by male sailors on board ship.

The problem has gotten so bad that the Navy has now ordered every sailor and officer to undergo training to prevent future assaults.

We can only hope it works.

Because while we can't expect the men in our armed forces to behave like perfect little gentlemen at all times, we can expect them to behave better than the army of Iraq.

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