Allardís AFA criticism backfires


The U.S. senator leveling the harshest criticism at the Air Force and Air Force Academy for how they handled sex-assault cases did little or no research into whether the claims submitted to his office are valid.

Sen. Wayne Allard, whose office became a clearinghouse of sorts for the cadetsí accusations, obtained official reports for only two of 57 cases reported to him.

The Colorado Republican refuses to release information about the complaints, saying it is not his job to verify their legitimacy.

"Weíre not in the investigation business," Allard said. "The function of my office is to make sure we get a response and get the issue cleared up. When we recognize a problem, itís our job to call that to everyoneís attention."

What Allard used to define the "problem" isnít known.

The sex-assault issue has given Allard, who didnít distinguish himself during his first Senate term, national standing.

He has appeared on ABCís "20/20" and "Good Morning America," PBSí "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," and MSNBC, and been quoted in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, USA Today and U.S. News and World Report.

Critics say Allard is playing politics with the issue and question his officeís numbers. One suggested the senator apologize to the academy.

Others say Allard is right on target and is seen as a white knight by the women who were raped.

The Gazette asked Allard whether he sought Air Force investigative files on the 57 cases ó documents available to him for the asking. Allardís office refused to answer.

A source close to the investigation who insisted on anonymity said Allard asked for investigative reports on three cases, two of which involved women who went public with their charges. Two case files were provided; a third was withheld because itís pending.

Allard also refused to discuss how many cases reported to him involved alcohol, how many involved cadets with prior disciplinary problems, how many involved force, how many involved assailants who were upperclassmen or how many were rapes.

Allard spokesman Dick Wadhams initially said he didnít know but would find out.

Two days later, he cited privacy regulation as the reason for not providing the information.

"Once you start answering questions like that," Wadhams said, "it comes very close to revealing enough information that the Air Force or other entities can figure out who the cadets might be."

Allard said Friday some of the complaints may be groundless.

"Some of them are legitimate and some are questionable and there may be some that have no basis at all, but that was not our job," Allard said.

"Our job was to report to the Air Force there was a problem at the Air Force Academy and they took action."

In recent weeks, some people questioned whether all the reports are legitimate.

The sex-assault issue was raised in December when a female cadet sent an e-mail to members of Congress, the Air Force and media, prompting Air Force Secretary James Roche to order an investigation that began in January.

In late February, as investigators worked at the academy, Allard called for Senate hearings and another probe by the Pentagon.

In a four-week period, Allard issued six news releases on the issue, including one that called the situation "deeper than Tailhook," the 1991 Navy sex scandal stemming from debauchery at a Las Vegas conference.

Allardís actions placed him in the spotlight, and more women called his office.

Allard has divulged only generalities about their complaints ó that the women allege their reports were discouraged by the academy or met with indifference or punishment for rules infractions while the attackers were not properly punished.

Air Force insiders complain bitterly that Allard isnít doing enough to persuade the women to cooperate with investigators, a charge Wadhams denies, noting some fear disclosure will hurt their careers.

According to some accounts, only a handful of women who called Allard cooperated with authorities, causing skepticism among some high-ranking Air Force officials.

Left to research cases already onthe books, the Air Force plans to release its findings soon. The 120-page report will show alcohol played a role in 40 percent of the 57 sexual assaults investigated from 1993 through 2002.

The report also will document an atmosphere that discouraged women from reporting assaults, an issue addressed in the "Agenda for Change" announced by Roche and Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper on March 26 to tighten rules for cadet life and training.

Pentagon sources say the report will not say suspects escaped punishment, as some women claim.

Nor will the report blame individuals for the scandal, a big disappointment for Allard, who successfully pushed to create an independent panel whose goal is to affix blame.

In recent weeks, the local District Attorneyís Office rejected one case, featured on national television, because of insufficient evidence.

In another, involving a drunken interlude between a sophomore and a freshman, the investigating officer recommended the accused cadet not be court-martialed on rape charges.

In light of those developments, some observers say Allard and other Senate Armed Services Committee members slammed Air Force and academy leaders unfairly.

For example, at an April 1 committee hearing, Allard berated Roche, noting there could be pressure to replace him if the committee isnít satisfied with his response.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Roche proved "himself totally incapable of handling this issue" and labeled the Air Forceís handling of the issue "some of the most incredible evasions of responsibility Iíve seen in 40 years" of military oversight.

Such posturing is pure politics, said Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo.

"Politicians love to demagogue, and from what I heard at the Senate, there was a good deal of demagoguery going on," he said. "There seems to be a race among politicians to see whoís tougher than others."

Hefley said he followed protocol by reporting three complaints to Roche and Jumper, who implemented new policies and replaced four academy leaders.

"We didnít scream to the press," Hefley said. "I got criticized because some people didnít think I wanted to nail the academy officials who were responsible hard enough."

Hefley said his approach is to fix the system, not fire someone and forget about it.

"The Salem kind of thing where weíre burning people at the stake is not my goal," he said. "We donít need to make the assumptions when we donít even know the facts."

An academy graduate with close ties to the institution and Air Force who wished to remain anonymous also said congressional politics taint the issue.

"Everybody was jumping on the bandwagon and trying to get sound bites out," he said.

He accused Allard of citing numbers that havenít been explained. "Are those individual allegations or do we have one person saying, ĎI know three people it happened to,í and that counts as four? "

Many cadetsí parents also are skeptical.

Mary Ann Jackson of Yucaipa, Calif., who has a child at the academy, said a woman who later said she was raped boasted during basic training her goal was to "major in sex" by having sex with one cadet in every squadron.

"Theyíre not getting the truth," she said.

"I think they (Congress) were using it to look like they were doing something important."

Republican activist Mary Lou Vaughn, the wife of a retired Air Force chaplain with deep roots in the military community, also thinks some cases are suspect. "Theyíre like phantom people," she said. "I think it (scandal) has been created."

She said some people want Allard to apologize for vilifying the academy and the Air Force.

Allard said he owes no one an apology.

"The Air Force report will substantiate us, and the Department of Defense report probably will substantiate us," he said. "They are going to have to get an apology from General Jumper and from the secretary of the Air Force."

Allard also has strong supporters.

Joe Madonia, a Chicago attorney considering a lawsuit or settlement with the Air Force onbehalf of roughly six women, including the one whose case was rejected by the District Attorneyís Office, commended Allard.

"Heís played a lead role in bringing it to the publicís attention and attempting to bring about some kind of change that will prevent this from happening to other women," he said.

"The story will only get bigger. Many more senators are enraged about this."

Allard said he hasnít sought the spotlight but wants to make sure the academy is a safe place.

"All weíve done is lay out the facts," he said.

"The secretary of the Air Force and General Jumper both agree with me that we have a problem at the Air Force Academy. The report that will be coming will indicate it was a pervasive problem and it was severe."

Whether it shows the cases reported to him were solid, though, is another matter.

"We never said there wasnít good reason for not prosecuting," Allard said.