Defense to investigate cadets' rape allegations
Senator angry with Air Force handling of Academy crisis
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (CNN) -- The Defense Department plans to conduct its own investigation into allegations of rape and sexual assault of female cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colorado, said.
Allard, a member of the Armed Forces Committee, said he has received 39 complaints, 13 of them from cadets and one from a civilian employed at the Colorado Springs-based Academy. The 39 complaints are in addition to the 56 the Academy has already received, Allard's office said.
The senator has sharply criticized the Air Force's handling of the issue, saying he was particularly irked that women who came forward to complain allegedly saw their careers ruined.
Air Force Secretary James Roche has launched an investigation of both the allegations and the system by which they were handled.
In a February 27 letter, Allard and Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to the Defense Department's inspector general, Joseph Schmitz, asking him to open an independent investigation.
The Senate Armed Services Committee has jurisdiction over the matter. Schmitz has indicated he will have an investigative team put together by the end of next week and in Colorado by April.
"This investigation per our request will contribute to an overall effort designed to address this serious issue at the Academy," the senators wrote.
The reason for requesting a separate investigation, said Sean Conway, Allard's chief of staff, is that the Air Force Academy does not give confidentiality and that Schmitz, under law, can and will.
"These women, out of fear of reprisal, contacted Senator Allard for help," Conway said.
A Monday letter from Allard asks Schmitz to focus on four specific areas, including the number of sexual assaults and rapes involving Academy cadets that have taken place over the last 10 years.
Allard also wants an investigation into claims by some former and current cadets that they were punished before the investigation of their allegations of assault were completed.
He also wants the handling of evidence, particularly of rape kits and investigative reports, evaluated. The senator wrote that the current and former cadets complained they were told their kits and reports were lost.
The senator also wants an investigation of a program called CASIE, or Cadets Advocating Sexual Integrity and Education, designed to assist victims of sexual assaults and rapes. Allard said CASIE volunteers undergo "limited if any training," and says he has heard "alarming" allegations that CASIE workers encourage victims not to report their alleged assaults to Academy or law enforcement officials.
"Senator Allard wants them to look at the Air Force Academy from leadership through process," said Conway.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., have also called for an independent investigation. Collins is chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which ensures the effectiveness of all agencies and departments of the government, and Lieberman is a ranking member.
The investigation into the allegations at the academy is part of a sweeping review the senators want of the military's instructional institutions.
As part of that effort, Schmitz will also be looking into the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.; the Army's Military Academy at West Point, New York, and the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York.
"There is absolutely no indication that there's anything wrong at these institutions," said Dick Wadham, an Allard spokesman, "but we want to be absolutely certain. Unfortunately, this problem seems to be endemic at the Air Force Academy."