Aberdeen inquiry is ruled unbiased

Army panel says charges of racism in handling of sex scandal unfounded

January 16, 1999|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Seeking to put the 1996 Aberdeen Proving Ground sexual abuse scandal to rest, the Army's inspector general concluded yesterday there was no basis to the charges that military investigators coerced witnesses or targeted only black drill instructors for prosecution.

After a seven-month inquiry, the inspector general released a report saying the investigations were conducted in an "unbiased manner."

In another case, the report dismissed allegations by Gene McKinney, former sergeant major of the Army and the first black to hold that top enlisted post, that he was targeted for charges of sexual wrongdoing because of his race.

All 12 instructors charged with sexual offenses at Aberdeen were black, and more than half of the 74 female victims were white. One instructor was cleared, and 11 were convicted or resigned rather than face courts-martial for their involvement with recruits.

McKinney was acquitted of sexual misconduct but found guilty in March of one count of obstruction of justice and demoted one rank.

Coercion was alleged

During the Aberdeen investigation, five women charged that Army criminal agents had attempted to coerce them into filing rape charges against their instructors.

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said at a news conference with the women on March 11, 1997, that "some inappropriateness occurred" during the Aberdeen investigation and that "bigotry may have played a role" in who was investigated and who was not. Neither the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People nor the Congressional Black Caucus came up with specific information that the Army was ignoring allegations of wrongdoing by soldiers of other races.

Mfume and others called for an independent investigation, but then-Army Secretary Togo D. West Jr., assigned it to the Army inspector general.

Five officers on panel

The inquiry was conducted by a five officers, including a black male lieutenant colonel and a white female major, who gathered statements, case files and sworn testimony from 88 "key individuals" from the Aberdeen scandal, the largest criminal investigation in Army history.

The report said evidence did not support the charges that only blacks were targeted. The Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) initially investigated 43 trainers: 74 percent were black, 12 percent were white and 14 percent were from other racial groups.

"Evidence indicates that drill sergeants encouraged the five women who spoke at the press conference to contact" the NAACP, the report said. "A former drill sergeant (convicted) further testified that the three drill sergeants told the five women that if they claimed coercion by CID, their statements could not be used against them or the drill sergeants."

In subsequent testimony, the report said, "four of the women said the CID agents were not racially biased and the fifth woman stated that she `didn't know.' "

In the case of McKinney, the report said, 40 witnesses were interviewed. "None of the witnesses saw or heard anything that led them to believe the allegations were racially motivated," the report said.

Mfume said of the report, "The NAACP will conduct a comprehensive review and analysis of the details in this report within the next few days and will engage in further dialogue with Defense Department officials on the matter as well as the broader issue of racial bias throughout the armed services."

McKinney's lawyer, Charles W. Gittins, disputed the report, saying the Army failed to widen its investigation after he offered "significant evidence of prosecutorial and investigatory misconduct."

Army officials did not immediately comment on Gittins' charges but said the report was thorough and exhaustive. "We stand by our report," said Col. John A. Smith, a spokesman.

Pub Date: 1/16/99

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