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7 U.S. soldiers charged in Web porn case

The Army has charged seven members of the celebrated 82 Airborne Division with engaging in sex for money on a Web site, authorities said Friday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Army has charged seven paratroopers from the celebrated 82nd Airborne Division with engaging in sex acts in videos shown on a Web site, authorities said Friday.

Three of the soldiers face courts-martial on charges of sodomy, pandering and engaging in sex acts for money, according to a statement released by the military.

Four other soldiers received what the military calls nonjudicial punishments.

The Army has recommended that all be discharged.

The charges do not mention the name of the site, but the division had previously been investigating allegations that soldiers appeared on a gay pornography Web site. A spokesman for the division said Friday’s charges were a result of that investigation.

The military-themed Web site did not make any direct reference to the division or Fort Bragg, a sprawling post about 70 miles south of Raleigh.

“As far as we’re concerned, it’s isolated to the unit, and our investigation determined that these seven individuals were the only ones” involved, said 82nd Airborne spokesman Maj. Thomas Earnhardt.

Steve Ralls, a spokesman for a legal group that helps gays and lesbians in the military, said the charges indicate the soldiers’ behavior is “a much more serious matter than just their sexual orientation.”

“I’m not going to make excuses for service members who are taking part in sexual conduct for money,” said Ralls, who works for the Washington-based Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “It would be absolutely criminal regardless of whether they were heterosexual or gay.”

Earnhardt said the three soldiers charged under military law had been appointed military attorneys, but he said the lawyers would be unavailable for comment on Friday.

The three soldiers who face courts-martial are: Spc. Richard T. Ashley, Pfc. Wesley K. Mitten and Pvt. Kagen B. Mullen. The Army did not release their ages or hometowns, but said all seven paratroopers were members of the 2nd Battalion of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

An arraignment was scheduled for March 7.

The other four soldiers who received nonjudicial penalties were not identified. Their punishments included reduction to the rank of private, 45 days of restriction to the unit area, 45 days of extra duty and forfeiture of a month’s pay.

The registered owner of the Web site’s domain name lists an address in Fayetteville, the city that adjoins Fort Bragg. A phone number listed for the registered owner was not in service Friday, and e-mails to the owner have been regularly returned as undeliverable.

The 15,000 paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne are among the Army’s most elite soldiers, having volunteered to serve in a unit that trains to deploy anywhere in the world within 18 hours.

The military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy states that “homosexual orientation alone is not a bar to service, but homosexual conduct is incompatible with military service.” Service members who violate the policy are removed from the military.