By Donna McAleer
Best Defense giant slalom correspondent
Forget the creepy guys in trench coats -- the Penn State University and the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandals remind us that it's harder than you might imagine to identify sex offenders inside institutions. Put that perpetrator in military uniform or clerical apparel and we want to deny it is even possible. Be it renegades, robes or uniforms, rape is the betrayal of trust manifest.
U.S. servicewomen are more likely to be sexually assaulted by a solider than they are likely to be killed in the line of fire. The new battlefield is the barracks.
The Invisible War, a documentary film premiering at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, is an investigative and enraging emotional analysis of the epidemic of rape and sexual assault within the U.S. military. If the term "epidemic" seems strident or alarmist, the facts chillingly reveal that sexual assault and rape are prevalent and that the military justice system presently in place is an enabler that shockingly perpetuates the crime. It is not an abberration. In fact, the closed military justice system is a target-rich environment for a sexual predator.
The 2010 Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military indicates that 3,158 cases were officially reported. A Department of Defense survey of active duty members revealed that only 13.5 percent of sexual assaults within the services were reported. The Pentagon itself estimates that more than 19,000 incidents of sexual assault actually occurred in 2010, not the 3,158 officially reported.
Invisible War vividly portrays the intense and extreme personal and social consequences that result from these brutal crimes. This is not only a woman's story, it is a man's story. Rape is a crime of power and violence. Within the military, this is a troop welfare issue. Within society, this is human rights story.
The academy-award winning team of Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering and Geralyn Dreyfous deliver an powerful film that makes a strong call for fundamental change in the way the violent crimes of rape and sexual assault are handled. Fully aware of the explosive nature of the topic, the filmmakers' overriding agenda is to provide a positive portrait of our armed forces and a balanced account showing how the services, through addressing the issue of rape and sexual assault within its ranks, could better realize and support the men and women who proudly wear our nation's uniforms.
The film treats this traumatic and highly charged issue in as balanced a manner as possible. The crimes are real and their consequences are devastating, but this documentary is not a hatchet job. The producers and directors have done an admirable job getting on-screen interviews with a number of civilian experts in the field, politicians, and retired officers up to and including the rank of lieutenant general.
Through the drama of the survivors of rape and sexual assault, The Invisible War offers a possible solution to the epidemic-a change to the military justice system in how cases of rape and sexual assault are investigated, prosecuted and punished. The call is to take them out of the survivor's chain of command. Canada and the United Kingdom along with most of our NATO allies, no longer allow military commanders to determine the prosecution of sexual assault cases.
Today military law requires that the officers directly in charge of the offenders decide how these cases are handled. This creates a clear conflict of interest and as a result, in the vast majority of sexual assault cases charges are not proffered. Only 8 percent of sexual assault cases are prosecuted and only 2 percent are convicted.
The Invisible War (2012)
There was some loose talk in the comments last week about women in combat. Here's some factual background.
Take it away, Donna.
By Donna McAleer
Best Defense giant slalom correspondent
Retired Air Force Gen. Lester L. Lyles, commission chair, said the recommendation is one way the congressionally mandated body suggests the military can get more qualified women into its more-senior leadership ranks. "We know that [the exclusion] hinders women from promotion," Lyles said in an interview with American Forces Press Service. "We want to take away all the hindrances and cultural biases" in promotions.
Written in 1994 combat exclusion policy, precludes women from being "assigned" to ground combat units, but women have for years served in ground combat situations by serving in units deemed "attached" to ground units, Lyles said. That distinction keeps them from being recognized for their ground combat experience -- recognition that would enhance their chances for promotion, he said.
In mid-November Rowan Scarborough of the Washington Times reported that top defense officials are wrestling to find a collective position on whether to allow women in direct ground combat. This seems to be a never-ending, perpetually debated and continually unresolved issue.
Earlier this year, Australia lifted all gender-based restrictions on its servicewomen. Other nations where women are able to serve in active combat roles include Holland, Canada, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden and Israel. The Dutch repealed formal restrictions on women in combat roles in 1979.
The United States has been engaged in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq longer than in any previous war. More than 230,000 American women have engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Women make up nearly 15% of the active-duty force.
In 2011, National Defense Authorization Act Congress required the defense and service secretaries to review policies "to determine whether changes are needed to ensure that female members have an equitable opportunity to compete and excel in the Armed Forces." That report was due to Congress on April 15. The Pentagon requested an extension through October. As of Nov. 16, 2011, that reported had not been submitted.
Given the perpetual debate, perhaps it is not surprising that the Department of Defense failed to meet an October deadline.
Marine Corps General James Conway was quoted, "I don't think you will see a change because I don't think our women want it to change. There are certain demands of officers in a combat arms environment that our women see, recognize, appreciate and say, ‘I couldn't do that.' "
Israel Defense Forces/Flickr
I am struck, reading the harrowing account of Iman al-Obaidi, the woman who burst into the hotel where journalists are staying in Tripoli and insisted on telling how she was raped, beaten and humiliated by 15 government militiamen, that there is a fundamental human need to bear witness, to tell the world what happened.
I think we could do a better job of enabling this to happen, of collecting and archiving such information. By we, I mean as humans, not necessarily as a government. I also think that the proliferation of technology that takes photographs, such as cell phones, should provide a bit of deterrence to acts such as these -- not much, but every bit helps.
This comment from "CNOL" was posted pretty late in the discussion yesterday of the role of Air Force Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward, so you might have missed it. I think CNOL makes a point worth pausing to note. Whether or not you think intervening in Libya was the right move, a very difficult task was carried out quickly without a major public hiccup, which is impressive.
The air campaign has been about as perfect as can be:
--In a matter of a couple of days a plan to establish a no-fly and no-move zone was designed, operationalized, and implemented, and included massively complex integration and a coalition between US and multiple different European allies.
--In a manner of less than 24 hours the 2nd largest AA system in the region was practically destroyed with no friendly casualties and little to no collateral damage.
--A fairly large ground force of multiple types of armor in close proximity to civilian populations was also almost completely destroyed around the major rebel stronghold of Benghazi, and most other areas except Misurata, thus saving the rebels from a major crackdown that would have likely resulted in massive civilian casualties, also with little to no collateral damage.
How can you get better than that?! Yes, our tech superiority is largely to play here, but that still doesn't account for the massive complexity, and competing chains of command from differing nationalities.
Tom again: On Misurata, here's an update from the AM. The same story reveals (to me at least) that the officer commanding the U.S. naval strike group is Rear Adm. Peg Klein. What is this, an all-female chain of command?
This is the general overseeing the American part of the air campaign in Libya. Air Force Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward, commander of the 17th Air Force, based in Germany, seems to be an expert in refueling and mobility, which is probably why she was picked for Africa Command, whose planners likely expected the command mainly to be doing humanitarian relief missions. Instead she is overseeing airstrikes by B-2 bombers, F-15E fighter/bombers, and F-16 CJ jammers.To my knowledge, this is the first time a woman has ever overseen an air campaign.
By Lt. Col. Cheryl Garner, USAF
Best Defense guest columnist
It was with tooth-grinding frustration that I read retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally's 18 February column in the Washington Post. In my opinion, she's done a disservice to women like me, currently serving in Afghanistan. Even more troublesome are the outright inaccuracies in her editorial, inaccuracies I feel compelled to dispel.
First, to the best of my knowledge, no commanders in Afghanistan are insisting that women who serve here have to wear a headscarf, or chador, as it is called locally. I bring this up because the very title of Col. McSally's article, "Why American troops in Afghanistan shouldn't have to wear headscarves," implies that this is happening. Actually, I have yet to see this. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Women service members whose duties call for them to interact with Afghans daily are frequently forbidden by commanders from wearing chador, even if they want to.
Second, McSally portrays the chador as a religious item. That statement is highly debatable. There are in fact non-Muslims in Afghanistan who wear chador because it is considered culturally appropriate, a fact that is seemingly lost on McSally, who apparently fails to grasp the wide cultural variance within the Islamic world, as evidenced by her "apples to oranges" comparison of wearing the abaya in Saudi Arabia to wearing the chador in Afghanistan.
McSally would also have readers believe two more inaccuracies -- that Female Engagement Teams (FET) comprise the majority of military women wearing headscarves in Afghanistan and that most local women in Afghanistan wear the burqa, the full-bodied cover, also known as chadoree in Dari. While FETs are indeed at the forefront of the headscarf debate, there are also women serving on Provincial Reconstruction Teams, on Human Terrain Teams, as Mentors to Afghan Counterparts, in Ministries and as Afghan Hands, like myself. Likewise, while you will find that many Afghan women in Pashtun areas of the country wear the burqa, the wearing of it is hardly uniform across the country. You will often find a mixture of traditional Afghan dress and conservative western clothing. In truth, how a female service member dresses when interacting with her Afghan counterparts should be dependent upon the situation, her environment and her judgment, not on McSally's ill informed opinions that she would see legislated by Congress.
By Paula Broadwell
Best Defense wandering reporter
Two years ago, a small team of female Marines -- drivers, engineers, cooks and other specialists -- began conducting "female engagement" initiatives with women in southern Afghanistan. If winning the hearts and minds of the local population was the goal, they thought it behooved them to amicably engage 50 percent of the population, women to whom American soldiers had virtually no access because of cultural and religious boundaries in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
Since then, the Marines expanded the program and formalized their training linguistic, cultural, and tactical training in advance so they weren't left learning on the job ad hoc, sometimes painfully and with the begrudging support of a commander. Their rapport-building efforts, which included medical outreach and the establishment of micro-finance projects to help women generate income, were soon recognized by Gens. Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus, both of whom pushed for the Army to officially adopt the Female Engagement Team (FET) program over the past year.
Engagement with Afghan women over the past nine years has not been non-existent. Initiatives include outreach through existing organizations, such as Agri-business Development Teams, Human Terrain Teams, Civil Affairs Teams, and Female Treatment Teams. In addition to these engagement platforms, FETs are another enabler within the toolbox. One representative in a Special Operations Unit here says they should not be viewed as an independent capability, but rather a complement to other enablers.
MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images
The 3rd Battalion of the 5th Marines has suffered a casualty rate in Afghanistan so far of more than 17 percent, according to this interesting article by Mark Walker of the North County Times.
Another Pendleton Marine, Cpl. Chad Wade, was with the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Marines. Katie Wade married him on September 18, 2009, and was widowed 14 months later on December 1, 2010. I find her blog almost too painful to read, like when she says her cheeks ache from holding back tears. "I wonder why I have to hurt this much?" she wonders. "Why am I 20 years old and widowed?"
But read on I do. "Is this real?" she asks. "I swear sometimes I sit back and just can not believe this is happening. It's like a slap in the face that my life isn't just a movie...this is what I have been handed and I have to deal with it. I'm not living someone else's life until he gets home."
Her request to the world is worth keeping in mind:
"I'm not looking for people to tell me stuff to try and make me feel better if it doesn't make them comfortable... Just talk to me. Talk to me like you would any other day. If I wanted talk about the situation with you I would. So to the people who are walking on eggshells with me and not quite sure what to say...just talk to me as a friend."
(HTs to Dan H and David W)
By Laura DeLucia
Best Defense pre-dawn speech correspondent
You've got to love the U.S. Army. On the day his successor as chief of staff of the Army was announced, General George Casey gave a "state of the Army" address so early that it was still dark outside, which is entirely consistent with the culture of the Army. (Suck it up and eat your eggs.) The theme of the 0-dark-30 Thursday talk, hosted by the AUSA Institute of Land Warfare, was "Maintaining the Combat Edge." For those of you who lay abed, you need not think yourselves accursed you were not there, because I will tell you what you missed.
Old Casey described three competing imperatives: Maintain the combat edge, reconstitute the force, and build resilience for the long haul. However, he said, the Army recognizes that the most daunting challenge for all three of the Army's near-term objectives may be to accomplish all of the above in "an era of declining resources."
A Best Defense salute to Nora Naraghi, Iran's female motocross champion. She provides an interesting example of human ingenuity in dealing with dumbass governments: She wasn't allowed to ride on the roads, so she took off cross country. "My role model is Ashley Fiolek," says Ms. Naraghi.
Photo via Flickr user MotoWebMistress
The "friggin' in the riggin''" item about fraternization gone wild aboard a Navy destroyer drew the most reponses of any item ever posted on this blog. This is after months of me slogging through reports on friendly fire incidents, counterinsurgency doctrine, military personnel issues, and so on. What really gets you all going? Sex, or, more precisely, "gender issues."
It reminds me of what a sportswriter once told me -- that the worst job on a newspaper is covering baseball, basketball or football, because every reader believes himself to be an expert on the subject. Kind of like sex.
Here's a comment from Cpl. Nicole Zook, who has been involved in training Female Engagement Teams in Afghanistan. Phrases in this note about training such as "I put them through the wringer" go a long way toward explaining why these FETs seem to work. I'm impressed.
"I have trained female Marines for the FET teams here and participated in them, as well as participating in both Lioness-type search teams and women's engagement and medical teams in Iraq. The women who volunteer for these teams - and it is a volunteer effort - are some of the most physically and mentally strong, intelligent women the Marine Corps has to offer. They are also some of the most caring.
After finishing my tour of duty doing security missions in Iraq, I volunteered to train any willing Marines from my unit to prepare for the FET missions here in Afghanistan. There were ten. I put them through the wringer and held them all to an exceptionally high standard in their training. I ensured that they were well trained for the physical demands of combat missions, including crew-served weapons training, fighting, and self-defense; the mental demands of being a female attached to an all-male unit (there are plenty) and maintaining decorum among the sometimes unruly and rude men; and intensive cultural, language, psychology, and communication training to prepare them for interacting with the Afghan women. The Marines loved every minute of their training, even when I ran them into the ground, and asked for more. They are better trained than some of their male counterparts and they are participating in the program for all the right reasons.
These young ladies understand that through the FETs, they are being given the opportunity to make a connection and make a difference with Afghan women. Many times I see male Marines come to the Middle East with the attitude that everyone here is an enemy, and killing is the only answer. The FET volunteers care about the people of Afghanistan, and Iraq, as individuals, on a human level, with no preformed prejudice. That is why the program works so well. FETs go in with the right attitude, and the people know this. They are instantly welcoming, and we can see the difference we make among the women and children of Afghanistan firsthand - and we know that, in turn, they are making a difference among the nation's men through their family connections.
The powers that be are calling for more troops in Afghanistan. I agree, wholeheartedly. But let them be the right kind of troops. What we need, more than just bodies, are EOD technicians, able-bodied interpreters, counterintelligence specialists, and FET volunteers. Lots and lots of FET volunteers.
Cpl Nicole M. Zook
Helmand Province, Afghanistan
DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on October 9, 2009.
I've been reading a recent internal summary of how Marine "Female Engagement Teams," or FETs, have worked in Afghanistan. The bottom line is that done right, this approach works surprisingly well, with benefits among the population that can't be achieved by males. The findings run directly contrary to several assertions made in the comments reacting to my previous post on this subject.
First, Afghans don't seem to mind the female teams. Paradoxically, "Female Marines are extended the respect shown to men, but granted the access reserved for women," the report finds. "In other words, the culture is more flexible than we've conditioned ourselves to think."
Second, the teams have been successful in reaching the other half of the population, one that carries disproportionate influence with the prime Taliban recruiting pool. "Local women wield more influence than many of us imagined -- influence on their husbands, brothers, and especially their adolescent sons."
When one patrol that took a FET with it was observed, the female Marines were invited inside several compounds, while the male Marines stayed outside. "And in each case, the FET succeeded in breaking the ice and getting women to open up and discuss their daily lives and concerns." Nor was this an isolated event. When patrols returned, "we discovered some Afghan women had been anticipating the opportunity to meet American women. In one home, the women said they had caught glimpses of the patrolling FET through a crack in the wall and that they had ‘prayed you would come to us.'" The fact that the Afghan women welcomed return visits indicated that their men hadn't punished them for speaking to Americans.
The women interviewed also had surprisingly diverse backgrounds. Though all impoverished now, some had once been prosperous. One group of young women reported that they had been held captive by the Taliban.
The interactions also seemed to change how some local men viewed the Marine presence. "One gentleman with a gray beard who opened his home to the FET put it this way: 'Your men come to fight, but we know the women are here to help.'"
But, the report warns, these teams can't be run casually. They are best done as a full-time job, overseen by an officer who trains and shapes the group, rather than a pick-up team of female Marines who happen to be around. The FETs also need extremely good interpreters, who must be female, fluent, and healthy enough to walk foot patrols. It also helps if they are self-confident enough to confront an Afghan male who rudely intrudes on the conversation.
There are several other tips in the report of the sort that only come from observed experience:
NB: The main barrier to more intensive and extensive use of the teams seems to be the inflexibility not of Afghan men but of U.S. Marine and Army officers.
MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images
Paula Broadwell, a reserve Army officer who is doing a PhD at Harvard, made the point that the military needs to think more about using female soldiers and Marines in counterinsurgency operations. If the point of COIN is to reach out to the population, then female soldiers are likely to be able to better deal with the half of the population that also is female, she noted. I think this is especially true in Muslim societies, and also in other tradition-oriented cultures. Broadwell noted that some 200,000 U.S. military women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.