Probe of Army general calls insular military culture into question
By JENNIFER HLAD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 24, 2014
This story has been updated.
An Army two-star general in Japan failed to properly investigate a sexual assault allegation against a colonel he had known for decades and referred the case to criminal investigators only after Stars and Stripes inquired about the charges, according to an Army Inspector General report released this week.
The handling of the case by Maj. Gen. Michael Harrison, then the commander of U.S. Army forces in Japan, is fueling complaints in Congress and among advocacy groups that the military is incapable of policing its ranks because commanders too often protect male colleagues at the expense of female victims.
The case, involving a Japanese civilian employee, unfolded days after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sent a DOD-wide memo calling for “enduring culture change” where allegations of inappropriate behavior “are treated with the utmost seriousness.”
Concerns about the behavior of the colonel — whose name is redacted in the report — were first officially raised in a June 2012 memo and a complaint was filed two months later.
The name of the person who filed that complaint has been redacted in the investigation report.
Harrison transferred the Japanese woman, a civilian administrative assistant, in August 2012, believing that “would remedy the perception of favoritism and unfair treatment” by the colonel, according to the investigation report.
In February 2013, she filed a complaint alleging the colonel had sexually harassed and assaulted her in July 2012.
Instead of referring the case to the Army Criminal Investigation Command, as required by regulations, Harrison ordered an internal investigation.
According to the report, the woman eventually approached a Stars and Stripes reporter, feeling that everyone was “scared” of Harrison.
The next day — May 16, 2013 — Stars and Stripes made queries.
The report states that the woman “felt the Stars and Stripes pushed USAR-J to do the right thing. After she spoke to the media, the next day CID contacted her” — some 73 days after filing the complaint.
The Army IG received the complaint against the colonel about sexual assault and harassment on May 21, and three days later ordered an investigation of “senior leader actions” in the handling of the case.
The Army suspended Harrison in June, and sent him to the Pentagon to be the director of program analysis and evaluation for an Army deputy chief of staff.
According to the investigation report, Harrison and another colonel discussed Stars and Stripes’ query shortly after it was made and decided not to respond.
Instead, Harrison and the colonel decided to “slow roll their response because the Stars and Stripes was not always favorable to them.”
The officers “hoped to finish their AR 15-6 investigation before the story came out,” the report said.
Stars and Stripes continued to ask the Army about the results of the investigation against him.
On Jan. 30, 2014, a spokeswoman told Stars and Stripes that nothing had changed, however, the IG investigation was completed in August, and he was reprimanded in December.
On March 27, Lt. Col. Alayne Conway told Stripes she was “coordinating a response” and would send it as soon as possible.
But the Army kept the results under wraps until this week, when it released a heavily redacted version of the investigative report in response to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by The Washington Post.
The IG report found that Harrison:
- Failed to investigate allegations against a colonel he had known since the mid-1980s
- Failed to treat the victim with dignity and fairness
- Failed to flag the commander
- Directed a command investigation of the crime instead of referring it to Army criminal investigators
- Failed to remove the colonel from his position even after he was aware of a pattern of misconduct.
Advocacy groups for victims of military sexual assault said the case is simply the latest in a string of cases in which commanders have protected perpetrators at the expense of victims.
“How many times do we have to see that the military is incapable of self-policing?” said Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders.
“Simply saying everyone is accountable does not make it so. Only when we remove the command bias and conflict of interest from the military justice system will we achieve transparency and accountability. … Too often, those in power are not being held accountable without pressure from the outside.”
Greg Jacob, a former Marine and policy director for Service Women’s Action Network, said Harrison’s decision “to bury or delay sexual assault investigations because of his personal relationship with the accused is yet another example of a system in which justice is subject to the whim of the commander.
“Our troops deserve a justice system that reflects the ideals they are charged with upholding — not second-rate justice guided more by politics and bias than evidence.”
Army spokesman George Wright said there is “a lengthy administrative process for investigating and taking action on allegations of misconduct.”
The Washington Post reported that Harrison was reprimanded in December and submitted retirement paperwork this month; Wright said Harrison chose to request retirement instead of being subject to possible involuntary separation from the Army.
“After the inspector general substantiated allegations that Maj. Gen. Harrison failed to act properly when allegations of sexual assault were made against a subordinate, he was relieved of his duties … and administratively reprimanded, effectively ending his career with the United States Army,” Wright said. “There should be no mistake that we will thoroughly investigate any allegations of impropriety, and take appropriate action when warranted.”
Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., has followed the issue closely.
“Congressman Mike Turner and I have recently introduced the FAIR Military Act that, among other things, requires more accountability across the services,” she told Stars and Stripes. “Right now, it is incumbent upon the military and its leaders to demonstrate that when these crimes occur, justice is served. But the window of opportunity for them to do so is closing, fast.”