Support our mission
 

WASHINGTON — Two years after naval investigators uncovered a hazing scandal inside a Bahrain-based canine unit, including numerous cases of violent attacks and sex crimes, officials can’t say whether anyone was ever disciplined or demoted.

Naval investigators have confirmed 93 instances of hazing within the Bahrain Military Working Dogs Division. One sailor, who several times was forced to simulate oral sex on other men, was later kicked out of the Navy for being gay. Another committed suicide after being charged with failing to stop the abuse.

But naval officials say that as far as they are concerned, the case is closed, an embarrassing one-time problem that is now completely in the past.

"This case does not reflect who we are as a Navy," said Capt. William Fenick, spokesman for the Navy’s installations command headquarters. "We believe it was an isolated incident."

But for former Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Christopher Rocha, the Navy’s reluctance to dispense justice — especially to the sailor he says led the abuse — means the closed case remains an open wound.

Shortly after the investigation, he admitted to commanders that he is gay.

"The Navy has failed to get a single charge to stick to [the ringleader], but I got kicked out," he said. "I couldn’t lie anymore about who I was."

More than a dozen sailors from the unit were implicated in an investigator’s report that detailed attempted rapes, frequent visits by prostitutes, beatings of younger sailors and other illegal activities between 2004 and 2006. Fenick told Stars and Stripes that by the time the investigator’s report was issued, most of the offenders had moved on to other assignments.

New commanders of any sailors involved were made aware of the report, and had the authority to issue demotions or further punishment as a result of the crimes. But Fenick said the Navy did not track whether any were punished, and it will not release personnel records that might show whether anyone was held accountable.

Naval officials would not say whether any charges were brought against the offenders. But Rocha said he knows of two who were charged: the alleged ringleader and Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Valdivia, who was the unit’s second in command.

Rocha said he was scheduled to testify against the alleged ringleader in late 2007 when charges were dropped without explanation. Valdivia committed suicide in January 2007, days after being accused of silently allowing the behavior to continue.

Rocha called that another injustice.

"She had no power to stop them," he said. "She was humiliated in front of us if she put up any objections."

Fenick could not confirm any details of any charges leveled against Valdivia, but said officials did conduct a separate investigation that confirmed suicide as the cause of her death. Investigators did not speculate as to her motive.

The commander in charge of the Bahrain unit at the time of the hazing incidents did not lose his job and was recently promoted to senior chief, Navy documents show.

Rocha, who still receives counseling for stress disorders related to the abuse, said he believes the Navy failed him and a number of other sailors by mishandling the case.

The investigation report details several times when sailors, including Rocha, were forced to simulate gay sex acts on other men, both during public training sessions and as punishment for mistakes. In another instance, two women in the division were handcuffed to a bed and forced to imitate lesbian sex while other sailors videotaped them.

The hazing scandal came to light recently after several victims of the abuse were interviewed by Youth Radio — a nonprofit news outlet which trains teens in video and audio production. The investigator’s report, released by the news outlet, shows that in one incident Rocha was hog-tied, fed dog food and tossed into a dog kennel full of feces.

In other cases, it says, male sailors invited prostitutes on base for parties. One male sailor tried to force his way into a female shower unit.

A 2007 letter from Navy Installations Command leader Vice Adm. Bob Conway referenced the canine unit problems and warned that hazing "has no place" in the Navy. Fenick called what the investigation found "an ugly issue," but one that the Navy did not try to hide.

"This was addressed with the regional commanders, the importance of leadership being aware of what’s going on," he said. "So we believe [the Navy] acted swiftly to identify the issues of hazing and deal with them."

Migrated

Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up