[ OUR OPINION ]
Proper remedy eludes
A Pentagon panel has criticized the U.S. military's handling of sexual assault cases, but its recommendations fall short of what is needed to correct the problem. Legislation may be needed to assure victims of sex offenses the same protections afforded in civilian cases of sexual assault.
A panel has called for more accountability, education and services to deal with sexual assault cases in the U.S. armed forces.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered the inquiry in February after receiving a report of more than 100 accusations of sexual assault and misconduct over 18 months in the U.S. Central Command, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan. A five-month review also found that at least 92 rape complaints involved Air Force personnel in Asia and the Pacific, including 11 at Hawaii's Hickam Air Force Base.
The panel, comprised of four military and four civilian members, arrived at a set of recommendations based on visits to 21 military locations on the mainland, in the Pacific region and the Persian Gulf. They found that participants in focus groups felt a "stigma" attached to making complaints about sexual assaults.
The main problem is the lack of confidentiality and protection afforded to victims of sex crimes in the military. Military rules of evidence provide that communication between a sex-crime victim and a psychotherapist is not considered confidential "when necessary to ensure the safety and security of military personnel, military dependents, military property, classified information or the accomplishment of the mission." Not even the lawyer-client privilege is extended to most victims of sexual assault, the panel found.
A remedy is not so easy, the panel reported, because "reconciling the inherent tension between a victim's need for confidentiality and a commander's need to know is very challenging and requires substantial additional work to resolve." The only way to resolve the problem may be through legislation changing the rules of evidence to allow victims to report sexual offenses not through the chain of command but directly to military law-enforcement authorities.
The panel also found the Defense Department lacking a "person or office" assigned to address the issue of sexual assault and recommended "a single point of accountability" for that purpose. However, a Pentagon office dealing with policy is less important than a person or office on each military base where victims of sexual offenses can report their crime and receive proper attention.
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Too much secrecy
shrouds Patriot Act
OPPRESSIVE provisions of the USA Patriot Act have resulted in a bizarre situation where even a legal challenge of the act's secrecy has to be kept secret. The circumstances illustrate once more why Congress should closely review the Patriot Act before extending it, if at all, beyond its expiration next year.
The Patriot Act bars the disclosure of legal challenges of its own validity.
Little is known about a lawsuit filed more than a month ago by American Civil Liberties Union that questions the constitutionality of the expanded powers the act authorizes. That's because secrecy rules of the law require such challenges to be kept under wraps, preventing the ACLU from even disclosing that the suit existed.
The ACLU was forced to seek court approval just to make that fact known. When it did, the Justice Department complained that the news release's mere description of the part of the act being contested and a court schedule for receiving legal briefs on the case, were violations of the law. The group was compelled to remove the description.
The suit challenges provisions that allow the FBI to demand customer records from Internet providers, telephone companies and other communications businesses. The type of information the government seeks through such "national security letters" includes a person's address, screen names, billing information, online purchases, phone calls made and emails and email addresses of associates.
There are few safeguards for citizens. The FBI can acquire the information even if a person is not suspected of terrorist activity. Letters are not subject to a court's review and the person targeted has no way to question an order. Most grievous is that recipients can't even reveal they have been tagged.
"It isn't even clear that a recipient can speak to a lawyer," said Ann Beeson, the ACLU lawyer handling the case, who could not say more about the plaintiff other than there was one.
In arguing that Congress should renew the Patriot Act, President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft have praised it as one of the best tools in preventing terrorist attacks. However, neither has ever disclosed the number of letters issued, nor have they described its effectiveness.
It appears that information is also secret.