Photo: Vanessa Guillen, soldier murdered at Fort Hood
Following a months-long investigation, the U.S. Army has disciplined 14 higher-ups at Fort Hood in Texas for failures of leadership related to a toxic climate that resulted in pervasive sexual harassment and incidents of sexual assault at the base. Yet feminist and antiwar veterans say the investigation and punishment of top brass at the third largest base in the country can not put an end to the crisis of sexual assault in the military.
Fort Hood came into the national spotlight with the disappearance of 20-year old Specialist Vanessa Guillen whose dismembered body was later found after a lengthy public outcry. She went missing after reporting sexual harassment. The case of 23-year old Sergeant Elder N. Fernandes also drew attention — his body was found hanging from a tree after he had reported being sexually assaulted by a superior.
Key findings based on interviews with more than 500 women soldiers revealed:
- 93 credible accounts of sexual assault; only 59 had been reported
- 135 credible instances of sexual harassment; only 72 had been reported
- No commanding general or subordinate senior commander had intervened to mitigate known risks of sexual assault and harassment
As a consequence of the report, the U.S. Army has disciplined 14 leaders at Fort Hood including relieving some of their command. “Still, the investigation determined that the culture was not attributable to any one leader, but rather that it developed and persisted over time. Exacerbating the situation, the report found, was the Army’s two decades of constant war since the Sept. 11 attacks, which created a climate in which military readiness was valued over all other responsibilities, to the detriment of integrity and respect between soldiers.” (New York Times)
Liberation News spoke to antiwar, feminist Army veterans Rachell and Jake Tucker. Rachell was not at all surprised by the findings.
“The results of this investigation should not be surprising to the Secretary of the Army or to anyone. Everywhere that there are military personnel, there is harassment and assault. The only difference is that it is concentrated at Fort Hood, a base that is constantly on deployment rotations. The climate and culture of the military is hostile to women.”
Jake Tucker added, “The culture of the military is necessarily dehumanizing. It is extremely difficult for a human being to take another’s life without it being self-defense. It is certainly horrifying that such brutality is executed upon fellow soldiers, which is why there is even the show of accountability. However, the wanton disregard of human life and resultant war crimes, whether by the individual soldier or the entire imperialist system, so rarely get punished.”
“It’s important that top officials have been held accountable, but this does not fix the problem. The Army treats sexual harassment and assault training as a PowerPoint presentation to get through and check a box. There is no actual discussion of how to change the culture from within. If there was, it would be mocked and many would say that this is for ‘sissies,’” explained Rachell Tucker.
Rachell continued, “Everyone knows Fort Hood as a hell hole and for good reason. Fact of the matter is that if Guillen was a weapon, they would have put the base on lock down until they found it.
“Soldiers and especially women soldiers are disposable in the military. I think the firings are just a public facing show to say that they are doing something about harassment and assault, just like they did years back when women, victims, were speaking up about their experiences, even if many years after the fact. The Army made some changes on how to report and adopted the language into their trainings, however the culture of the military will not be changed because that will involve, not only putting an end to being the protective, extractive means of violence of empire, but also in repairing the damage it’s done to the youth that joined through class conscription who have been dehumanized and suffer moral injury and PTSD from participating, sometimes repeatedly, in the endless wars.”