Since the start of the war in Iraq one year ago, 550 U.S. troops have been killed, 15 of them women. But Iraqi guerrillas are not the only danger faced by female soldiers. There is also the threat from within the U.S. military itself.
In the last 18 months, there have been 112 reports of sexual misconduct in the U.S. armed forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, almost all of them cases in which American servicewomen are being attacked by U.S. servicemen.
Amnesty International is accusing the Pentagon of conducting a cover-up, and a support group for military sexual assault victims say there are at least two serial sex offenders among U.S. troops in the Middle East. The Senate held hearings on this issue recently and admonished the Pentagon to do more to stop the attacks and to improve treatment for victims.
“What does it say about us as a people, as a nation, as the foremost military in the world when our women soldiers sometimes have more to fear from their fellow soldiers than from the enemy?” said Sen. Susan Collins of the Armed Services Committee.
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld ordered an investigation into the sexual attacks, saying, “Commanders at every level have a duty to take appropriate steps to stop sexual assault, protect victims and hold those who commit offenses accountable.”
And it‘s not just happening in the Middle East. Nearly one in five female Air Force Academy cadets say they‘ve been sexually assaulted at the academy in Colorado. And seven of them say they‘ve been the victims of rape or attempted rape.
Eight percent of the women who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War report they were sexually assaulted—and that‘s 10 times the rate in the civilian world.
What is going on in our armed forces?
Everyone from Donald Rumsfeld to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have said this is an outrage and it needs to be dealt with. There‘s an April 30 deadline for a report.
Dorothy Mackey, a former service woman who was raped in the 1990s, says she doesn’t expect anything to change based on this upcoming report. “The Pentagon has been well aware of this for decades and haven‘t been doing what they should be doing.”
Jennifer Machmer's account
Lieutenant Jennifer Machmer, who served in the U.S. Army in Iraq says she was sexually assaulted last year in Kuwait. She says she is now feeling the repercussions for having reported that attack. She talked to MSNBC's Deborah Norville Monday night:
DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST:What happened?
LT. JENNIFER MACHMER, SEXUALLY ASSAULTED IN KUWAIT: I was deployed to Kuwait on February 10 and I was assaulted on March 2. So I wasn‘t even there a month yet.
I had to go to the airport to pick up some civilians and an NCO had asked me to escort him.
NORVILLE: Because the rule is you never go anywhere by yourself. You always have somebody else. The buddy system.
MACHMER: Right. Especially in a vehicle you can‘t go without two people. So I trusted the NCO. I had known him for about two years. And I went with him and we ended up having to stay at the airport for about four hours, and during that time we laughed, we talked. There were no problems. But towards the end he attempted to kiss me, and then it went on from there. I blew him off -- I tried to blow him off. I trusted this guy and I‘m, like, kind of in shock. I‘m like why did he do this? Why is he doing this?
NORVILLE: But he didn‘t stop?
MACHMER: He did not stop. He continued to assault me as we were going down the road.
NORVILLE: While you‘re driving?
MACHMER: While we‘re driving, he undid my seatbelt.
NORVILLE: And he physically molested you?
NORVILLE: And you did what when you got back to the base? Did you report it?
MACHMER: When we got back to the camp, I thought it was over, but he continued because he parked the car. He grabbed me as I was getting out of the car and said, “Let‘s go somewhere.” And I said, “I don‘t want to go anywhere.” And the car was turned off. He made the conscious decision to turn the car back over and drive behind a bush and continue to assault me.
After the assault his final words to me were really, “Maybe not tonight, but later,” meaning he wanted to continue something else. And he was reassuring himself that everything was OK and that we were still a team and that we could still work together.
NORVILLE: And what did you say to him? Did you slap him? Did you punch him? Did you scream?
MACHMER: No. I was not responding to what he was doing. If he was kissing me, I did not respond. And so he actually stopped a few times, he was like “What‘s wrong?” And I told him numerous times “I do not want this, you know. This is not what I want at all.”
NORVILLE: Fast-forward. You got away from the guy.
MACHMER: Got away from him.
NORVILLE: You report it to someone higher up the command.
MACHMER: Yes. I reported it within a half-hour. And at this time it was about 1:30, 2 in the morning. And the command took care of it from there.
And it went to CID, went to an article 32 hearing, which basically finds enough evidence to go forward with further punishment. There was enough evidence found.
NORVILLE: And what did they do to him?
MACHMER: Finally in August, he got his punishment. I had gotten a call from a lawyer, my fifth lawyer, and they said you have one hour to decide if you want to do court marshal or if you want your brigade commander to deal with the situation. By that time I wanted it over. So I trusted the brigade commander to do the right thing.
NORVILLE: And what did they do to him?
MACHMER: I didn‘t find out until February that he received a Field Grade Article 15, which for an NCO of his rank really doesn‘t do much and a little bit of pay taken.
NORVILLE: So he got bumped in pay and that was basically it?
MACHMER: Yes. And he‘s still serving.
Not an isolated case
Dorothy Mackey, a former service woman, was raped back in the 1990s. She now is an advocate for military assault victims like Jennifer. She is also an ordained minister.
DOROTHY MACKEY: This is very widespread. According to the Veteran's Administration, over 200,000 American military women have been sexually harassed, hazed, 30 percent raped. Sixty-thousand East Asian Pacific women and children have been raped with U.S. military members with virtually no accountability.
NORVILLE: But you say it‘s not just women. As awful as your situation is, and it is horrible that any woman goes through this, you say men are also on the receiving end of similar sexual assaults?
MACKEY: It‘s power and control issues. For the women, what we‘re finding is that there are multiple agendas. Some of the people in the power positions do not want women in, and they‘ll do anything to get them out. We have five immunity laws in our U.S. court systems that give immunity to U.S. military members.
NORVILLE: So if you tried to pursue this in the legal system outside the military, in these five areas you‘d be out of luck?
MACKEY: But you have to exhaust the entire chain of command to the president, which typically takes two years. And they try to waste your time limits. And then you can only go into the court systems then, up to the Supreme Court.
And when my case got into the Supreme Court, the U.S.—or up to the appeals hearings, the Justice Department attorneys who represented my assailants said they could not bring my case for national security reasons. To do so would be disrupting the good moral discipline and honor of the military.
NORVILLE: We should note that the Pentagon did a survey a couple of years ago and compared of 20,000 service members. They said six percent had reported sexual assault in 1995, only three percent in 2002. They would make the argument that it‘s not as bad as it used to be. You would disagree?
MACKEY: I would absolutely disagree. I have statistics from the Justice Department themselves that said that in the military, one out of three military men in the U.S. military prisons are there for sexual assault. That‘s 33 percent.
The number of veterans that are in civilian prisons, the No. 1 reason is for sexual assault. And it‘s well over double the amount of civilians being in prison for the same.
NORVILLE: Everyone from Donald Rumsfeld to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have said this is an outrage and it needs to be dealt with. There‘s an April 30 deadline for a report.
Do you have any hope or expectation that anything will change based on that?
MACKEY: I really don‘t, just because the Pentagon has been well aware of this for decades and haven‘t been doing what they should be doing.
NORVILLE: Thank you very much for joining us. It‘s a stunning story that you tell, and I hope that you‘re able to put it behind you and the anger as well, both of you.