Total Pageviews

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Congresswoman vs. The General

 

Lt. Gen. David H. Huntoon, Jr. has not had the best of luck in the past two weeks. Seven days following the results of an investigation by the Pentagon that the West Point Superintendent "improperly used" his office and recommended corrective action against the 3-star general, Huntoon unexpectedly found himself on the hot seat again, yesterday.

At a routine meeting of the West Point Board of Visitors, a select committee of Members of Congress and Presidential Appointees, Huntoon was giving a standard presentation on affairs of the Academy.

In the small audience (around 20-30 attendees) were three U.S. Senators and five Congresspersons. Also in the audience was Brenda "Sue" Fulton, West Point Class of '80, one of the first women to graduate from the storied and revered institution. Last year, she became the first openly gay individual to be appointed by the President to the Board of Visitors, an honor reflective of a lifetime of service to the nation.

Fulton was not pleased with how the Academy handled a recent incident that involved the entire men's rugby team. Jezebel's Katie J. M. Baker gives a rather good summary of it here.

The gist: for the past year (and possibly more), the men's rugby team participated in a weekly e-mail on the government e-mail system that included sexist comments, rape humor, homophobia, and racism in extremely graphic terms. They also took pictures of women on campus (without their knowledge) and doctored them to be sexually-suggestive and degrading.

The Academy deliberately attempted to cover-up the incident after it was reported and downplayed what happened, lying to both the press and the Corps of Cadets about the nature of the e-mails and the punishment given.

As Huntoon was set to launch into how the Academy has been handling recent troubles with this incident and previous ones, including a sergeant who filmed female cadets in the shower, Fulton asked to read a statement on her assessment of the situation, a rather blistering one that seemed to suck the air out of the room and completely blindside the General.

According to one attendee, "He was visibly shaken and thrown off guard. As soon as he realized she was reading from a prepared statement, he froze. As she continued reading, he blanched."

Following her reading, this exchanged occurred between the General and Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who was none-too-pleased. This comes from an audio recording I was sent taken by someone at the meeting:

LTG HUNTOON: The inappropriate use of language [in these e-mails] was completely unacceptable... [unintelligble 2 seconds]... You and I know this is a cultural issue; one that, among other things, Congressman Sanchez, talked very eloquently about, a week ago...[about] Andrews Air Force Base. Cultural change takes time. This must be approached immediately. I can assure you [we are working on this as evidenced by our slides].

This clearly wasn't good enough for the Congresswoman, who immediately dismissed the leader-isms that have come to be expected of high-ranking officers questioned on military sexual trauma.

CONGRESSWOMAN SANCHEZ: So, I'm new to this, but I will tell you something: the fact that these gentlemen--and it's hard to call them that--will still get to wear a uniform... it's a big disrespect to women. Maybe this *is* an issue of due process, but if that's true, [you need to tell us, so we can change this]. It's pretty unacceptable to have those men wear a uniform and still be in the United States military. It's just incredible how irresponsible on our part to have allowed that to happen. I just want to make it clear how egregious this situation has been. I don't want to dwell on one situation, but if we're hiding behind is how happened was subject to the law, the procedures of this institution [re: West Point] [need to be changed]. This type of person does not belong in uniform.

About 45 seconds follow from a senator--whose name I didn't catch--expressing further deep concern over how the situation was handled.

Congresswoman Sanchez then asked if, after four years of training and character development, the Superintendent thought it appropriate to graduate seniors who clearly were not prepared to be leaders of character.

Reportedly, she later asked if the Superintendent had the authority to separate the cadets for this behavior. After a bit of waffling on his part, she pointedly asked him again, to which he responded he did have that authority.

And then...

CONGRESSWOMAN SANCHEZ
: Our military does not understand. Do you believe these incidents and what happened with the rugby team brought distinction to this institution?

LTG HUNTOON: No, Ma'am, there's no question they did not.

If you're feeling the slightest bit of sympathy for the General, I hope you'll permit me to emphasize context here.

This has long been an issue at the Academy, especially in the past year. A survey of cadets at the Academy conducted last year by the Department of Defense found that 52% of women cadets reported experiencing unwanted sexual attention.

In March, it was revealed a sergeant in charge of cadets had secretly filmed female cadets in a barracks shower, which wasn't revealed to these women until 10 months after the recordings were discovered. Nothing was done by the Academy's leadership to prevent this from happening again, and they didn't formally inform the Corps of Cadets (or parents) until late in May, nearly a full year after the sergeant was found out.

According to sources close to the investigation of the rugby team, the Commandant (junior to the Superintendent) decided to shorten the punishment of cadets to eight days since they "stood together for their punishment like men."

Yes, how noble of them. What seems to have escaped all of this is that through graduation (and ongoing), these "men" and their friends have harassed the woman online, who turned them in for their misconduct. No kidding.

What's more interesting about the situation is that the e-mails have not yet been officially released. In fact, the investigation, despite the insistence of the Academy otherwise, is claimed by several cadets to only be based on one e-mail, meaning that every other e-mail featuring the behavior has been intentionally ignored, e-mails that would prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that this behavior has been routine for quite some time and most certainly exploited and degraded women cadets on campus.

One source insisted to me that other factors were at play, since three seniors brought up on the misconduct charges have fathers in influential positions, including one who works directly for an Undersecretary of the Army at the Pentagon.

How true that is remains to be seen, but it's worth considering, especially in light of the Academy's intentional misleading on the rugby team e-mails and their punishment of cadets involved.

At West Point, which prides itself on the Cadet Honor Code, lying is partly-defined as "saying something with the intention to deceive."

Should the Academy's leadership undergo a remedial course on ethics? Do they understand that this kind of behavior leads to not only the lack of safety and dignity for cadets (particularly women) but other sinister things like Abu Ghraib?

You would think that LTG Huntoon's 40 years of service would effectively inform his sense of right and wrong on something so clearly out-of-step with the values he supposedly holds, but all evidence remains to the contrary.

Twitter: @cmclymer

2 comments:

  1. Not if things like this were part of LTG Huntoon's time with the military. I've found in my 56 years, that behavior that is not corrected, appears condoned. I imagine Huntoon has participated in such things and thinks they're no big deal...he is from that time zone. Women were things, not people.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for this coverage. It shows that Army leadership lives in a self-congratulatory bubble, seemingly unaware that casual expressions of racism and misogyny in official communications are no longer acceptable in the rest of America. They do not see or understand the problem Congress is demanding they solve, and this is why Congress needs to take the lead.

    A law professor, former Air Force officer, and author of "A More Perfect Military: How the Constitution Can Make Our Military Stronger"

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.