Senate rebukes Air Force officials

April 03, 2003|By Nick Anderson | Nick Anderson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WASHINGTON - As several lawmakers accused military officials of a failure of leadership, the Senate took action yesterday to force the Pentagon to accept an outside review of the sexual assault scandal at the Air Force Academy.

By voice vote, the Senate approved a measure requiring Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to name by May 1 an independent panel to review the Air Force's response to dozens of allegations of rape, sexual assault and other sexual misconduct at the academy within the past decade.

The seven-member panel would then report to the president, Pentagon officials and Congress within 90 days.

The measure was an amendment to a spending bill now before Congress. It must pass the House and be signed by the president before taking effect.

The Senate action was a sharp rebuke to Air Force officials, who have launched their own campaign to reform the 4,200-cadet academy in Colorado Springs.

On Monday, Air Force Secretary James G. Roche told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he would consider an external review, in addition to pending internal Air Force and Defense Department investigations.

But senators said they did not believe Roche was moving fast enough.

"This current crisis has tarnished the reputation of the school and cast doubt on its graduates," Sen. Wayne Allard told the Senate. "It is time for us to take action."

The Colorado Republican and other senators sharply criticized Roche and Gen. John P. Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, for their handling of the academy's outgoing leadership - Lt. Gen. John R. Dallager, academy superintendent; and Brig. Gen. S. Taco Gilbert III, commandant of cadets.

Dallager and Gilbert are to be replaced this spring under a shake-up announced last week.

But Roche and Jumper have refused to blame the outgoing leaders for troubles at the academy that they say go back years. Allard said the Air Force is moving too quickly to exonerate Dallager, Gilbert and others.

"To make this determination before the investigation is completed is irresponsible and inappropriate," Allard said.

A spokesman for Roche, William C. Bodie, had no immediate comment late yesterday.

Nick Anderson writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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