NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 2/6/2004 4:24:44 PM ET 2004-02-06T21:24:44

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, alarmed by numerous reports of sexual assaults involving U.S. troops in Iraq and Kuwait, has ordered an investigation into whether the Defense Department has done enough to prevent such attacks and help victims, officials said Friday.

Rumsfeld directed David Chu, the department’s undersecretary for personnel and readiness, to review military procedures for medical care for sexual assault victims and the availability of ways for victims to report assaults, particularly in combat areas.

In the memo, Rumsfeld said he was concerned “about recent reports regarding allegations of sexual assaults on service members deployed to Iraq and Kuwait.” The incidents involve U.S. military personnel attacking one another, a defense official told The Associated Press.

While emphasizing that every commander was responsible for taking steps to prevent sexual assaults, Rumsfeld said, the Defense Department also had to ensure that victims got proper medical and psychological attention. He ordered that the review pay particular attention to the unique circumstances that may arise in a war zone.

Defense officials told NBC News that Rumsfeld’s order was not an investigation into any individual charges or cases, but a review of the department’s procedures in pursuing such allegations and the treatment of alleged victims.

Chu has 90 days to report findings and recommendations. Military officials said they would fix any problems as soon as they were discovered.

Dozens of cases reported
The Defense Department said that in the U.S. Central Command region — which includes Iraq and Kuwait as well as the Horn of Africa, the entire Persian Gulf region and Central Asia, including Afghanistan — the U.S. military had received reports in the past year of 88 incidents of “sexual misconduct.”

Citing specific reports in The Denver Post, Reps. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., teamed this week to urge House leaders to hold committee hearings.

Slaughter called the reports shocking and pledged to hold public hearings through the Women’s Caucus if Congress did not pursue them.

The Post reported last month that at least 37 female service members had sought counseling for sexual trauma and other assistance from civilian rape crisis organizations after returning from duty in Iraq, Kuwait and other overseas stations.

The women, ranging from enlisted soldiers to officers, reported poor medical treatment, lack of counseling and incomplete criminal investigations; some said they were threatened with punishment after reporting assaults.

They or their families contacted the Miles Foundation, a Connecticut-based organization that champions the cause of abused military women, the Post reported.

NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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