The US military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexual soldiers has the perverse effect of protecting bigots who commit violence against homosexuals, while preventing homosexuals who comply with the policy from seeking protection, says a former Navy officer.
In an article published in Sunday’s Washington Post, Joseph Rocha, a former petty officer stationed in Bahrain during the early years of the Iraq war, wrote: “The irony of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is that it protects bigots and punishes gays who comply.”
Because homosexuals can’t admit their sexuality to senior officers, they can’t complain about abuses, and that provides cover for those committing violence against them, Rocha explained.
Rocha’s criticism of “dont’ ask, don’t tell” comes on the heels of a gay-rights march on Washington, DC, this past weekend, ahead of which President Barack Obama gave a speech in which pledged to end the policy. But many gay-rights activists have accused the president of dragging his heels on the policy change.
Shortly after joining the Navy’s canine bomb-sniffing unit in Bahrain in 2004, Rocha says he was subjected to repeated hazing by his commanding officer. CNN reports that Rocha and others in his unit were subjected to numerous acts of humiliation, including being hog-tied, being force-fed dog treats, and being duct-taped to a chair and left inside a dog kennel.
“Shop talk in the unit revolved around sex, either the prostitute-filled parties of days past or the escapades my comrades looked forward to,” Rocha wrote in the Post. “They interpreted my silence and total lack of interest as an admission of homosexuality. My higher-ups seemed to think that gave them the right to bind me to chairs, ridicule me, hose me down and lock me in a feces-filled dog kennel.
“I told no one about what I was living through,” Rocha continued. “I feared that reporting the abuse would lead to an investigation into my sexuality. My leaders and fellow sailors were punishing me for keeping my sexuality to myself, punishing me because I wouldn’t ‘tell.'”
The man Rocha blamed for the abuses was his commanding officer, Chief Master-at-Arms Michael Toussaint. But following an investigation, the Navy decided to charge the unit’s second-in-command, Petty Officer Jennifer Valdivia. Toussaint has since been promoted and now works with the Navy Seals.
Valdivia was herself the victim of hazing. Rocha described to CNN how Valdivia was once “dressed only in a bedsheet, handcuffed to a bed, and forced into a catfight with two other women.”
After learning she would be blamed for the hazing, Valdivia committed suicide, leaving behind a message on her MySpace page in which she said she was “tired of being blamed for other people’s mistakes.”
Following a Youth Radio investigation into the matter earlier this year, members of Congress are beginning to sit up and take notice. Rocha’s ordeal is being championed by US House Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), a former Navy admiral who, according to CNN, “is so disturbed about allegations of abuse and hazing in the Navy’s canine unit in Bahrain he’s demanding answers from the Navy, asking the same question some sailors are: Where is the accountability?”
Sestak has reportedly requested an inquiry into Rocha’s allegations, sending a letter to Navy Secretary Raymond Mabus asking for answers about the allegations.
This video is from CNN’s American Morning, broadcast Oct. 12, 2009.