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U.S. air force relieves top commander over sex scandal

In this March 2, 2012 photo, Air Force Col. Glenn Palmer, commander of the 737th Training Group at Lackland AFB, speaks to trainees in San Antonio. (AP Photo/The San Antonio Express-News, William Luther)

AUSTIN/WASHINGTON: The U.S. air force has relieved a top base commander in the wake of a widening sex scandal, officials said Friday.

Col. Glenn Palmer had overseen basic training for all of the country’s new recruits at the Lackland air force base in Texas. Officials familiar with the decision said Friday that Palmer has been relieved from those duties.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not yet been made public.

More than a dozen military instructors at the Lackland base have been probed or charged with sexually assaulting recruits. Investigators say more than three dozen female trainees were victimized.

The announcement came as the new top Pentagon official charged with combating the problem said that sexual assault victims in the U.S. armed forces have been robbed of their trust in its justice system, but military leadership is still in the best position to restore that confidence.

In one of his first interviews since taking over last month, army Maj. Gen. Gary Patton acknowledged the extent of what he called “a terrible, repugnant and humiliating crime.”

Reports of sexual assault should continue to be investigated, and if necessary punished, within existing channels, said Patton, director of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.

At Texas’ Lackland air force base, 38 people alleged they had been raped or sexually harassed by trainers, triggering two air force investigations and calls for a congressional probe.

There were 3,192 reports of sexual assault in the military last fiscal year, a 1 percent increase from the previous year. But only 791 subjects were disciplined, as commanders routinely lack sufficient evidence to prosecute cases.

The Defense Department estimates that only one out of six assaults is reported, because of victims’ fear of reprisal or inaction.

Patton said his goal is to wipe out sexual assaults from within the U.S. military’s ranks.

“It is an affront to the very values we defend,” he said. “It has no place in the Defense Department, period.”

He said he would increase the number of conversations he has with sexual assault victims, and intensify scrutiny on why so few cases are prosecuted. He has met with forensic experts to learn more about the science of sexual assault investigations.

Patton said he trusts existing investigation methods used by the military.

“If you were to take the disciplinary component and put it into some external, centralized, whatever, body, independent, apart from the chain of the command, you’ve just removed the commander from the problem and tied the commander’s hands,” Patton added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 11, 2012, on page 10.

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