Sergeant Accused of Secretly Filming Female Cadets
Is there a right response to an episode like this? Or is it just a symptom of an underlying societal disease?
By THOM SHANKER
Published: May 22, 2013
“WASHINGTON — A sergeant first class on the staff of the United States Military Academy at West Point faces charges for allegedly videotaping female cadets without their consent, sometimes when they were in the shower, according to Army officials.
The Army is contacting a dozen women to alert them that their privacy may have been violated and to offer support or counseling as required, officials said.
The suspect, Sgt. First Class Michael McClendon, faces charges under four articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for indecent acts, dereliction in the performance of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, and actions prejudicial to good order and discipline. Sergeant McClendon, who had been assigned to the school since 2009, was transferred to Fort Drum, N.Y., after charges were filed on May 14, Army officials said.
During his tenure at West Point, Sergeant McClendon served as a “tactical noncommissioned officer,” described in academy personnel documents as a staff adviser “responsible for the health, welfare and discipline” of a company of 125 cadets. The person in the position is expected to “assist each cadet in balancing and integrating the requirements of physical, military, academic and moral-ethical programs.”
The student body at West Point numbers about 4,500 cadets; just over 15 percent are female.
The allegations at West Point, the nation’s oldest and most prestgious military academy, came in the midst of growing outrage in the armed services, in Congress and even from President Obama over reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military — and at the failure of official efforts to reduce the problem and protect victims. They also come as the Army has begun integrating women into a number of combat positions, bringing added demands for fair and equal treatment of those in uniform.
“The Army is committed to ensuring the safety and welfare of our cadets at the Military Academy at West Point — as well as all soldiers throughout our Army,” Gen. John F. Campbell, the Army vice chief of staff, said on Wednesday. “Once notified of the violation, a full investigation was launched, followed by swift action to correct the problem. Our cadets must be confident that issues such as these are handled quickly and decisively, and that our system will hold those responsible accountable.”
The Army made no announcement of the charges against Sergeant McClendon, but provided details after The New York Times learned of the inquiry from several current and former members of the West Point community who said they were alarmed by the allegations and wanted to learn of the academy’s plans to investigate and prevent future violations.
If proven, the violation of privacy and trust alleged in the filming of female cadets could have a significant negative impact on whether the Army is seen as an inviting career for young women.
George Wright, an Army spokesman, said the service and the academy would “rebuild trust through our response.” He said the Army was committed to “providing the full range of support to those whose privacy was violated,” as well as “keeping them updated on the case.”
“The Army will ensure the military justice system works through to its proper conclusion,” Mr. Wright said.
Some details of the alleged violations remain unclear. Officials said some images appeared to have been taken in the showers, while others were taken at different locations, perhaps through windows. And complicating the inquiry, according to officials, was that some images may have been taken consensually.
According to military service records, Sergeant McClendon joined the Army in 1990 and trained as a combat engineer. He deployed to Iraq from 2004 to 2005 and from 2007 to 2009, and was awarded a Bronze Star.
In recent weeks, allegations of sexual harassment and assault against women in the miltary have prompted vows from the Pentagon’s highest officials that they will confront the problem.
“It is time we take on the fight against sexual assault and sexual harassment as our primary mission,” Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, wrote in a message to all of his service personnel last week. “It is up to every one of us, civilian and soldier, general officer to private, to solve this problem within our ranks.”
General Odierno wrote that “recent incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment demonstrate that we have violated that trust.”
“In fact,” he added, “these acts violate everything our Army stands for. They are contrary to our Army values and they must not be tolerated.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was briefed on the case Wednesday morning and was described as “concerned and disturbed” by the allegations. He signed an order on Friday requiring the military to review and recertify each person assigned to programs for preventing sexual assault and assisting victims.
The order requires a “review of credentials and qualifications of current-serving recruiters, sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates,” and it imposes “refresher training” for the approximately 25,000 people who are assigned to these programs.
Mr. Hagel’s decision came after Mr. Obama summoned the Pentagon’s senior leaders to the White House, telling them that the levels of sexual assault across the armed services were a disgrace that undermined the trust essential for the military to carry out its mission effectively.
Mr. Hagel has acknowledged that the issue has reached a crisis. The Pentagon found that an estimated 26,000 assaults took place last year.
“We’re losing the confidence of the women who serve that we can solve this problem,” said Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “That’s a crisis.””