Collins, Lieberman Hail Independent Investigation

WASHINGTON – Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins, R-Me., and Ranking Member Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Wednesday announced that the Department of Defense Inspector General has agreed to open an independent investigation into the sexual assault and rape allegations that have rocked the Air Force Academy. As the Air Force announced new leadership for the Academy, Collins and Lieberman said DOD Inspector General Joseph Schmitz will initiate an independent review of whether officials at the Colorado Springs, Colo., facility failed to investigate the assault and rape charges properly or discipline those at fault. Among the allegations are that women were retaliated against for reporting the assaults.

“The Air Force Academy is in the midst of changing not only its personnel, but its process and procedures for handling these serious allegations. The fundamental problem will persist, however, until there is a complete cultural and attitude change toward women. Regardless of who is in charge, this must be a priority,” Collins said.

“The Inspector General has made the right move in launching an independent probe into these despicable allegations,” Lieberman said. “And the Air Force has made the right move in replacing the Academy’s top leadership. But these steps are just the beginning of what will be a long process of ensuring an environment of dignity and respect for female cadets at the Air Force Academy. Sexual assault, abuse, and discrimination simply will not be tolerated within the service academies.”

The DOD Inspector General’s office said that it would look into 52 closed cases of alleged sexual abuse at the academy over the past 10 years, and that it would also look at 10 new cases that have come to the attention of Senator Wayne Allard, R-Colo. Furthermore, the IG’s office said it would travel to the Air Force Academy as part of its inquiry. And it will “undertake a systematic look” at how the two other service academies, at West Point and Annapolis, are handling reports of sexual assaults.

“We are aggressively pursuing background information, policies, and procedures from all academies, and inputs regarding specific cases from multiple sources,” the IG’s office said in a written communication with Collins’ and Lieberman’s offices.

Although the Air Force launched its own investigation into the allegations, Collins and Lieberman, in a February 24, 2003, letter had requested Schmitz launch an independent inquiry as well.

“A thorough investigation needs to be conducted as quickly as possible, for even if only a portion of the allegations are true, such behavior is intolerable, and corrective actions are required immediately,” the Senators wrote in their letter.