Following a Youth Radio investigation into claims that former Petty Officer Third Class Joseph Rocha was brutalized at his unit base in Bahrain between 2005 and 2007 because his commander suspected that he was gay (see our original coverage by clicking here), the Navy have relaunched an investigation into the incident backed by Pennsylvanian congressman Joe Sestak.
In a letter to the Secretary of the Navy Rep. Sestak (D-Pa) criticized the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy the military enforces to ban openly gay service personnel and which kept Rocha from initially speaking out about the abuse he suffered, adding yet more pressure for a repeal.
In the letter, Sestak wrote:
“Without a question, it heightens and makes more salient this issue… it highlights the loss of another good individual.”
The congressman then went on to say:
“During my 31 years in the military, I served alongside and in command of men and women of all backgrounds, beliefs, and identities who fought valiantly and selflessly… when a man or woman puts on a military uniform, he or she immediately assumes a commonality of purpose with all fellow service members. Failing to treat everyone with the same level of dignity and allowing acts of assault or battery to go unaddressed, would be counter to not only our national values, but to the concept of brotherhood and sisterhood that I learned is so essential to – and such a key part of – the spirit of our armed forces.”
Responding to the letter, the Navy have said the incident is now under review. Although there has been no express apology, and in fact earlier this month the Navy had downplayed the abuse, there does seem to be an admission that something went wrong as they attempt to distance themselves from the events that took place in that two year period:
“The incidents that occurred within the Military Working Dog Division at Naval Support Activity Bahrain do not reflect who we are as a Navy… the Navy is now looking into the handling of this situation more carefully,” Navy spokesperson Commander Cappy Surette said.
So, how exactly was Joseph Rocha treated?
- Forced to take part in film recordings whereby he would have to simulate gay sex with other officers.
- Was repeatedly asked by his commanding officer if he was a “faggot” because he refused to have sex with a prostitute.
- Was told by that same commanding officer to act “more queer, have a higher pitched voice, make the sounds and gestures more realistic” under threat of being outed and suspended if he did not comply.
And the abuse didn’t stop there.
Here is Joseph speaking about what happened to him in a Youth Radio interview:
Rep Sestak wants to know how Rocha’s commanding officer was ever promoted if this is the way he managed his platoon:
“It would astound me if he was promoted if these allegations are true… what kind of a command climate is that?” He asked in a recent interview.
Joseph Rocha was formerly discharged from the military after admitting that he was gay in a written statement, feeling he was unable to carry on due to depression and emerging symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.
Those opposing the military Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy are pointing to the abuse that Rocha suffered and the treatment that he was then subjected to by the Navy, in spite of being a model officer in every other respect barring his sexuality (which he was unsure of when he enlisted, no doubt making the harassment all that much more unbearable), as prime reasons why DADT must be repealed.
For the first time since it was enacted, DADT will go to a Senate Armed Service Committee meeting to be held in October, with high profiled law makers and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, expected to attend. The hearing came at the request of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) who still hopes to bring a vote on a DADT repeal into Congress.
How Can You Help Repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?