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Pentagon keeps tight lid on some sex assault info

Apr. 8, 2014 - 02:58PM   |  
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April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and the Pentagon wants troops and civilians alike to know that it takes the issue seriously.

Aware and alert about what the brass calls a crisis in the ranks. Informed about the depth of the problem?

Mmm. They'll get back to you on that. Or not.

First, the awareness part.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared side by side in a public service announcement stressing the need to eradicate sexual assault.

Dempsey: "We must stay committed to keeping our honor clean. We must strengthen our bonds of trust with each other and with the American people.

Hagel: "So step up and help stop sexual assault. Thank you."

Awareness, evidently, ends when it comes to divulging the findings of an internal review that disqualified more than 700 troops from "positions of trust." USA TODAY reported last month that 588 soldiers and 151 sailors and civilians had been disqualified from jobs as sexual assault counselors, recruiters and instructors. The Air Force disqualified two airmen; the Marine Corps found all its Marines measured up.

Hagel ordered that troops involved in sensitive posts to be rescreened last year after the Pentagon found that an estimated 26,000 troops had been victims of unwanted sexual contact in 2012. And it took months of badgering the military to produce basic numbers for disqualified troops.

As to what the infractions or crimes those troops committed, the Pentagon is mute. Militantly so. There's nothing to suggest that the information sought is classified, and issues of privacy could be addressed by blacking out names. There is reason to believe some of the soldiers committed serious offenses the Army is seeking to discharge 79 of the worst cases.

"These soldiers held positions of trust and were disqualified for a reason but we still don't know why," said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and a member of the House Armed Services Committee. "We know some committed sexual assault and child abuse and that others were busted for driving drunk but we don't know if they were discharged, retrained or simply transferred.

"Where are they? What happened? Until the public and the Congress gets all the facts it's hard to know whether the Army is truly making great strides to clean up its toxic culture," Speier said.

Requests for more information about them were denied in the first week of Sexual Awareness Month and the Army required further appeals be made through a Freedom of Information Act request. For those who deal daily with the Pentagon, that's often the last resort. Requests can languish for years.

Maybe that's the idea. But it doesn't advance anybody's knowledge or awareness of the problem.

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