The military is putting two Guantánamo guards on trial in Texas next month on charges alleging they sexually assaulted junior soldiers at the remote outpost at a time when commanders were grappling with the prison hunger strike, the military said Monday.
The separate courts martial will take place next month by order of Army Maj. Gen. Joseph P. DiSalvo, the commanding officer of Army South, the headquarters unit for personnel activities of soldiers at the U.S. detention center in southeast Cuba.
In one case, 1st Sgt. Richard A. Smith, no age provided, is accused of raping a sergeant in January 2013 as well as sexually assaulting two other women at the base several months later. Smith, described as a reservist from Orlando, Fla., was activated to service about 10 weeks before the alleged rape.
Smith also faces charges alleging he bit the neck of one alleged victim, a corporal, and groped another woman at the base for whom no rank was provided, suggesting she was a civilian contractor.
His charge sheet describes an alleged coercive environment of unwanted sexual advances — and worse — spanning seven months at Guantánamo. They include asking one junior female soldier to persuade another woman soldier to move in with him on his return to life in Florida; having an apparently consensual adulterous sexual relationship with a married specialist; and suggestively speaking with and touching a corporal despite her protests to stop it.
In the other case, Sgt. Stevontae Lacefield, no age provided, is accused of groping a specialist who resisted him in May 2013 in his quarters as well as “wrongfully pursuing personal and sexual relationships” with four different privates in a 10-month span at the remote base. He’s also accused of allowing one underaged private to drink liquor.
One of Lacefield’s alleged abuse-of-power instances was described as occurring on a cellblock at the prison which, as of Monday, held 154 foreign men as war-on-terror captives. Lacefield’s charge sheet did not specify which prison camp at Guantánamo.
At SOUTHCOM, the South Florida headquarters responsible for the prison, Army Col. Greg Julian said the cases come at a time of increased Pentagon efforts to let soldiers know there’s a way to file complaints against “predators who prey on subordinates.”
He said the military was trying to educate low-ranking soldiers, “not just at Gitmo —anywhere in the military where this sort of thing occurs” of their right to go outside their chain of command for fear of senior troops using their authority as “some sort of power to intimidate them.”
The criminal proceedings were first disclosed over the weekend by the San Antonio Express News in Texas, after the two soldiers’ cases appeared on a military docket as the lone April trials scheduled by the Army South headquarters at San Antonio’s Fort Sam Houston.
The Express News report said the prosecutions marked the first sexual-assault trials of non-commissioned officers assigned to the 12-year-old prison alleging the men preyed on women they were “duty-bound to protect.”
The newspaper also said they were the first cases by Army South, the headquarters for all soldiers assigned to SOUTHCOM operations, “in which a guard was accused of assaulting another GI.”
At Guantánamo, the prison spokesman, Navy Cmdr. John Filostrat said by email Monday that another trooper on the prison staff has already been convicted of “inappropriate behavior with a subordinate within the last year.”
That trooper lost pay, rank and was being discharged, he said. Filostrat did not specify the convicted trooper’s service at the prison where troops are drawn from Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines and serve on mostly year-long deployments, away from their family. He offered no better timetable than the past year, nor an explanation of when and where that trial took place.
Filostrat did, however, quote the commander at the prison staffed by 2,100 troops and civilians as being sensitive to the sexual assault issue.
Navy Rear Adm. Richard Butler, the commander, called sexual assault a crime that “undermines the strength of our forces, and fundamentally goes against our warrior ethos, the civilian corps creed and our military core values.”
Prison staff “must be willing to stand up to stop sexual assault,” he said, “because it undermines our mission and continues to hurt our great military."
The charge sheets show the alleged misconduct began at a time when Army soldiers were replacing Navy sailors as guards on the prison blocks. It continued through one of the greatest period of tensions at the detention center — as captives protesting their circumstances engaged in a sweeping hunger strike during which Southcom poured in medical reinforcements to help conduct tube-feedings of captives.
The documents, released to the Herald on Monday, indicated that the charges were originally leveled against the two sergeants in October. Their subsequent pretrial hearings, called Article 32 proceedings, were held at Fort Sam Houston, according to the public affairs officer there, Army Col. Hans Bush.
An Army major, Gregory B. Batdorff, will serve as judge at the separate trials — for Smith April 3-4 and for Lacefield April 7-10.
Conviction in each case could be punished by life in prison, Julian said.