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Aberdeen Sex Scandal Nearly Over

November 7, 1997

The courts-martial are over. The lawyers are gone. The last of the sexual misconduct charges against 12 soldiers at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland has been processed.

But for the Army, the defendants and the victims, the biggest sex scandal in U.S. military history is not over.

It was one year ago today that the Army revealed that women recruits at the Army Ordnance Center at Aberdeen had been harassed, assaulted and raped.

Changes have been made in the way drill sergeants and their female trainees interact. Still, opinions vary on how well the Army met the objectives Secretary Togo West set forth one year ago when he said of wrongdoers, ``We will expose them and we will eradicate them.″

``We’ve probably done a pretty good job of eradicating the problems that existed at that time, but it’s one thing to cut the cancer out and it’s another thing to make sure the system doesn’t regrow it,″ Col. John Smith, an Army spokesman in Washington, said Wednesday.

None of the 12 defendants was entirely absolved of misconduct but neither was any convicted of all charges he initially faced. Six were court-martialed: Four got jail time, including the one defendant convicted of rape. The six other cases were resolved through discharges or administrative proceedings. Three of the 12 remain in the service.

One woman is seeking up to $1 million in damages from the Army after prosecutors dropped a rape charge against her drill sergeant. The Army maintains the attack was not related to her military service.

The Aberdeen scandal and the broader investigation it prompted burned into the public consciousness an image of drill sergeants preying on female trainees in a secret game of sex and power. It also generated debate about mixed-gender training and racism in the military, since all 12 men charged were black.

The investigation produced a searing Army report in September that found nearly half of women in the service had received unwanted sexual attention in the past year.

In response, the Army is developing better screening of drill sergeants and adding a week of ethics and values training for recruits, although full implementation is still a year away.

The Army has assigned a three-star general, Lt. Gen. William J. Bolt, to oversee initial entry training. A one-star general, Gen. Clayton Melton, has been named director of human relations to supervise implementation of many elements of the action plan.

Some elements evolved from measures put in place over the past year at Aberdeen, such as assigning additional officers to advanced training units to give commanders more time with troops, and giving training battalions more access to chaplains.

Aberdeen commanders also created a system for trainees to report mistreatment anonymously and ordered mandatory instruction for trainees on preventing rape and sexual harassment.

Army prosecutors at Aberdeen claimed their biggest victory in the 18 rape convictions returned against Staff Sgt. Delmar Simpson in April. He is serving a 25-year prison sentence.

But prosecutors dropped or bargained away rape charges against three subsequent defendants, prompting Simpson’s lawyer, Edward Brady, to declare, ``The government got their trophy with Sgt. Simpson.″

The final charges from Aberdeen were quietly put to rest last week, when Army lawyers decided not to renew their prosecution of Sgt. 1st Class William Jones in favor of discharge proceedings. Prosecutors had withdrawn charges of indecent assault, making lewd comments to trainees and being drunk on duty in July pending further investigation.

The prosecutors achieved at least one important goal: deterrence, said Washington attorney Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice.

``One of the purposes of the criminal justice system is to deter others,″ he said, ``and you have to assume that, given the unpleasant fallout for a variety of people here, some deterrent effect must have been achieved.″

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