Video: Punishment reversed for pregnant soldiers

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 12/22/2009 4:38:49 PM ET 2009-12-22T21:38:49

A U.S. general in Iraq who listed pregnancy as a reason for court-martialing soldiers said Tuesday that he would never actually seek to jail someone over the offense, but wanted to underline the seriousness of the issue.

Last month, Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo issued a policy that would allow soldiers who become pregnant and their sexual partners to be court-martialed. But he appeared to back away from the policy in a conference call with reporters, saying the policy was intended to emphasize the problems created when pregnant soldiers go home and leave behind a weaker unit.

"I have never considered court-martial for this, I do not ever see myself putting a soldier in jail for this," said Cucolo, who oversees U.S. forces in northern Iraq. But since pregnant women automatically go home, their units are left short-staffed, he said.

"I need every soldier I've got," Cucolo said. "I need them for the entire duration of this deployment."

Cucolo commands a task force of 22,000 soldiers, which oversees northern Iraq, including cities such as Tikrit, Kirkuk and Mosul. He said he has 1,682 female soldiers.

As soon as the military knows a soldier is pregnant, she is immediately sent home.

Redeployed if pregnant
"If you are a pregnant female in a combat zone, you are redeployed, period. That is actually not my call, that is just what we do," he said.

Cucolo is believed to be the first to make the pregnancy an offense that could be dealt with by court-martial — for both the man and the woman. The ruling only applies to troops under his command. He said women who are raped would not be subject to this order.

"I have to accomplish a very complex mission," he said. "I'm going to do what it takes to maintain our strength."

Cucolo's order outlines some 20 barred activities. Most of them are aimed at keeping order and preventing criminal activity, such as selling a weapon or taking drugs.

Troops also are prohibited from "sexual contact of any kind" with Iraqi nationals. And, they cannot spend the night with a member of the opposite sex, unless married or expressly permitted to do so.

The general said he consulted with a number of women in his unit before coming up with the policy and all supported it. He also consulted with his unit's lawyer.

"It's a very difficult issue because pregnancy does impede readiness," said Genevieve Chase, the founder of American Women Veterans, an organization designed to help female veterans. "Enforcing the rule of this is what's going to be difficult."

Chase said she was especially concerned about holding both males and females responsible.

Chase also said there is already a heavy stigma on women who get pregnant in the battlefield.

"Every time a female does get pregnant there's that automatic assumption, that you're trying to get out of the deployment," she said.

7 soldiers reprimanded
The general said that since his Nov. 4 policy went into effect, four women and three men have been found in violation of it.

The women and two of the men received letters of reprimand that will not become part of their permanent record, the general said. The third man would receive a letter of reprimand in his file — a more serious punishment — because he was also found guilty of offenses including adultery.

All the women were sent home.

One of the female soldiers declined to say who impregnated her and the unit “let it drop,” Cucolo told Stars and Stripes, adding that he had no plans to further investigate paternity.

“I’m in a war zone,” he said. “I don’t have time for that.”

“I can’t tell you how valuable my female soldiers are,” Cucolo said. “They fly helicopters. They run satellites. They’re mechanics. They’re medics. Some of the best intelligence analysts I have happen to be female.”

“Please think before you act,” he added in a plea to his troops.

No other units in Iraq have similar rules, Stars and Stripes said, citing military officials. A spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan said no pregnancy ban is in place there.

Military officials say the order was issued because Army policy requires the force to remove a pregnant soldier from a war zone within 14 days of learning of the pregnancy, creating a hole in a unit that makes it more difficult to complete its mission.

Col. David S. Thompson, the inspector general for all soldiers in Iraq, has called the ban "a lawful order."

Thompson, who has served 29 of the past 39 months in Iraq as an inspector general, told Stars and Stripes that it’s the first time he can recall pregnancy being prohibited.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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