WASHINGTON - The U.S. military is facing the gravest allegations of sexual misconduct in years, with dozens of servicewomen in the Persian Gulf area and elsewhere saying they were sexually assaulted or raped by fellow troops, lawmakers said yesterday.
There have been 112 reports of sexual misconduct over roughly the past two years in the Central Command area of operations, which includes Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, military officials said yesterday. The Army has reported 86 incidents, the Navy 12, the Air Force eight and the Marine Corps six.
Military officials said that the bulk of the allegations were being investigated and that some had resulted in disciplinary actions, but they could not provide specifics. They added that a small number of the reports turned out to be unfounded.
Also, about two dozen women at Sheppard Air Force Base, in Texas, have reported to a local rape-crisis center that they were assaulted in 2002. The Air Force Academy is still reeling from the disclosure last year of more than 50 reported assaults or rapes over the past decade.
The latest allegations are the most extensive set of sexual harassment charges since the Navy's Tailhook incident of 1991 and the Army's drill-sergeant scandal about five years later.
The issue came to a boil at a contentious hearing yesterday on Capitol Hill, where Senate Democrats and Republicans sharply questioned the Pentagon's top personnel official and four four-star generals for what the lawmakers said were inexplicable lapses in the military's ability to protect servicewomen.
Lawmakers said they were particularly appalled by reports that women serving as military police had been assaulted by male colleagues in remote combat zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where immediate medical treatment and a sense of justice seemed to be lacking.
"No war comes without cost, but the cost should be borne out of conflict with the enemy, and not because of egregious violations by our some of own troops," said GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a member of the personnel subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee.
The Pentagon's personnel chief, David S.C. Chu, assured lawmakers that the Defense Department was treating the issue seriously, and that "all policies are on the table" as part of a 90-day review, whose findings and recommendations are due by April 30. He said the immediate priority would be to provide better care to assault victims.