Victims list grows to 34 at Aberdeen Female soldiers alleging misconduct double from 17; Hot line logs 5,204 calls; Panel of military and civilians named to study Army culture

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON -- The number of female soldiers who say they are the victims of rape or other sexual misconduct at Aberdeen Proving Ground has risen to 34 -- twice the number acknowledged publicly by the Army, congressional and military sources say.

"The investigation to date has identified 34 victims at Aberdeen with allegations ranging from rape (13 women), indecent assault (three), and physical assault (1) to sexual harassment (5)," says a memo prepared by House of Representatives staff members for the National Security Committee and obtained by The Sun.

The remaining women have said they were victims of consensual sex or fraternization, said congressional sources. The figures came from Brig. Gen. Daniel A. Doherty, commander of the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, who briefed some members of Congress this week in a closed meet- ing.

Army officials at Aberdeen have been reporting 17 alleged victims at the U.S. Ordnance Center and School, resulting in the suspension of 20 soldiers, including a captain and two sergeants who are expected to face courts-martial.

Additional charges could be filed against the soldiers expected to face courts martial, Army sources say. And, according to the memo, "there are several [other] cases still under investigation that could result in charges."

In other developments yesterday related to the Army's sexual misconduct problems:

Army Secretary Togo West formally announced the formation of a military-civilian panel to investigate the extent of sexual harassment and abuse in the Army and to recommend ways to counter it.

Thirteen women employed at Fort Bliss in Texas sued the Army for $3.9 million, claiming they were passed over for promotions, fondled and subjected to crude sexual remarks.

In a federal class-action suit, the women -- all current or former civilian employees -- complained of years of sexual harassment and discrimination by military and civilian officials alike. When they spoke up, the women said, they were intimidated and retaliated against.

An official with the Columbia, S.C., rape crisis center said her agency has been called to nearby Fort Jackson six times since July 1995, to investigate reports of soldiers raping other soldiers. Three of the cases reported at that Army training facility involved drill sergeants and the others peers of the alleged victims, said Columbia Rape Crisis Network director Donna Smith.

An Army spokesman acknowledged this week that two rape investigations were under way at the base, which trains more soldiers than any other Army installation. Base statistics show 30 allegations of sexual misconduct in the past year, with 27 proven to have merit.

By late yesterday afternoon, 5,204 calls had come into a toll-free Aberdeen hot line set up to field complaints of sexual harassment and misconduct. The Army said 694 merit further investigation -- 112 at Aberdeen and 582 at other military locations.

The newest complaints surfacing at Aberdeen come from the hot line and from interviews with the estimated 1,000 female trainees who have attended the school since January 1995, said Army sources.

Officials at the Ordnance Center said they could not comment on the number of victims outlined in the memo. "From our standpoint, that information has not been released to us. If [Army investigators] released that to Congress I don't know," said Capt. Craig Minnick, an Army lawyer.

Paul Boyce, a spokesman for the Army investigators, declined to comment and said Doherty was unavailable.

Meanwhile, the Army secretary said the new military/civilian panel would have "immense clout" as it probes problems at Aberdeen and throughout the Army.

It will determine whether a flaw exists in military culture that fosters sexual abuse and will examine why the service's zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment appears to have broken down, allowing a backlog of thousands of complaints to build up.

"Is there more the Army needs to learn from these allegations?" asked West at a Pentagon news conference.

"Is there more that we need to understand about the processes and policies that in the past we've taken comfort from and how they're working? Is there more we need to know about how they're perceived by our soldiers?"

One question the panel is being asked to answer: Why were so many recruits reluctant to report alleged abuse until the Aberdeen hot line was opened in the wake of the scandal there?

The panel is also expected to recommend whether the hot line should be kept open permanently and be relocated to the Pentagon.

Asked whether "heads should roll," West replied that the investigations would first have to determine whether the chain of command "either didn't act when they should have or failed to know information they should have known."

Heading the panel will be retired Maj. Gen. Richard S. Siegfried, a veteran of 34 years' service and commander at Fort Jackson from 1991 to 1994, when the Army made the base its test site for gender-integrated basic training. He is being recalled to active duty for the duration of the investigation. He is currently manager of the human resources department of South Carolina Electric and Gas.

"Once I get there and get my arms around this bear, I will be able to talk more lucidly about it," said Siegfried in a phone interview from his Columbia, S.C., office.

Asked whether he would visit Aberdeen, he said he would "go where I need to go." He added: "If there have been 7,438 people there, and they have already trod on every acre, perhaps I don't need to go [to Aberdeen]."

One of his first priorities, he said, would be to dovetail the work of his panel with probes into the widening fallout from Aberdeen by the Army's inspector general and by the Criminal Investigation Command.

The panel will have nine members and three independent consultants. One of the consultants is Mady Wechsler Segal, a sociology professor specializing in military issues at the University of Maryland College Park.

Segal recently advised the Army on how to lessen the strain on military families during the peacekeeping mission to Bosnia. She said yesterday: "I believe the establishment of this panel shows that senior Army leaders, both military and civilian, are committed to addressing what they recognize as a serious problem."

As a human resources consultant to the secretary of the Army after the Navy was traumatized by the 1991 Tailhook scandal, Segal helped design the Army's current sexual harassment policies and procedures. Until the allegations surfaced at Aberdeen, they were widely regarded as the best in any of the military services.

Pub Date: 11/23/96

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