Congress refuses independent Aberdeen review Black Caucus, NAACP sought outside probe

March 14, 1997|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff researcher Robert Gee contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Members of Congress yesterday refused requests by the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus for an independent review of charges that Army investigators at Aberdeen Proving Ground tried to pressure female trainees to make false rape charges.

Rep. Steve Buyer, an Indiana Republican who chairs the military personnel subcommittee, said he saw no need for a review outside the Army -- a view echoed by other members of the House National Security Committee.

"We do not want to jeopardize any ongoing investigations," Buyer, who heads a task force looking into sexual harassment and misconduct in all the military services, said of the sexual misconduct probe at an Aberdeen school. "I immediately asked the Army to take a look at the race-based allegations and the allegations of police conduct with regard to coercion or overzealousness, and asked for them to conduct an internal review."

Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat, added, "Let's not interfere with the current prosecution's work. Let the system work. Let's make sure that every issue that is being raised -- including coercion -- comes out as part of the individual fact-finding in each case."

Five women trainees said this week that they were berated by investigators of the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, who tried to pressure them into rape allegations. None of the women signed a statement charging rape -- rather they alleged consensual sex -- and only one of the women later retracted those allegations.

Army officials have stood behind the investigators, saying they acted professionally and were sensitive to those they interviewed, nearly 1,000 trainees who were at Aberdeen from January 1995 to the present.

But NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said that without "an independent look at the facts here, the integrity of the Army and integrity of this process still remains clouded." Members of the Black Caucus joined in the call, with some saying the current process is "tainted" by the women's charges.

On Wednesday, Army Secretary Togo D. West Jr. rebuffed Mfume's call for an independent probe, saying Aberdeen commanders or a military judge could review the women's charges. Mfume then turned to Congress for such an outside review.

West told lawmakers yesterday that after the Aberdeen criminal cases have run their course he would ask the Army inspector general to review the outcome to "protect the rights of all."

Fifty-six women have made accusations of sexual misconduct against male superiors at Aberdeen, with some 40 percent saying they had consensual sex -- prohibited with superiors by military regulations. Seven sergeants and one captain at Aberdeen have been charged with crimes ranging from threatening witnesses to rape; six sergeants have faced administrative punishment for lesser offenses.

Aberdeen officials said yesterday that additional charges have been brought against Staff Sgt. Vernell Robinson Jr., who already faced charges including rape and assault. He will face a general court-martial, which has not been scheduled.

Pub Date: 3/14/97

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