: By Ariana and Ben Klay speaking on behalf of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-NY) Military Justice Improvement Act
which you should really learn more about. TRANSCRIPT:Remarks by Ariana Klay, November 6, 2013
I went to the Naval Academy and joined the Marine Corps because I saw service as a platform to use my talents challenge myself to be my potential. I met many courageous service-members, served in great commands, and worked with some of our country’s finest, most inspiring leaders. I loved the Naval Academy, loved being a Marine, and still feel proud of my service and my command’s service in Iraq. I trusted and had confidence in my leadership based on several years of great experiences.
That changed in 2009, when I was transferred to a command where harassment was common and condoned. My commander was handicapped from taking action to eradicate the problem because of his favoritism towards those of higher rank or combat arms. His incentivizes were as much to deny the problem as they were to retaliate against those who might choose to report.
Despite systemic limitations against passing unbiased judgment, my commander did have the power to deny the presence of harassment. His authority gave him ownership of the truth, yet without accountability. He decided, in writing, that calling officers sluts and whores amongst other inappropriate actions, was not harassment, and that any harassment was deserved because of what I wore or because I complained about it. It was the retaliation and condoning of harassment that I believe made those who harmed me feel protected and encouraged. To get out of this climate, after six months, I sought and received a by-name request to deploy to Afghanistan. My command denied my requests, four times, under the rationale that I was too critical to the command, only six months before I was assaulted.
A culture of harassment encourages a predator, silences and intimidates his prey, and aids a command’s cover-up. When I reported the assault, my command responded with retaliation.
The retaliation is the same in almost every case of sexual assault, command appointed attempts to diagnose those who report with a personality disorder, by officials with no medical training, whatsoever, commanders appointing and rewarding senior female military members to participate in the retaliation, command issued protective orders against the accused, ostracism, intimidation and isolation. The humiliation of the retaliation was worse than the assault. Because it was sanctioned from those same leaders I once would have risked my life for. All the policies, programs, and posters against assault added to this, as powerless tokens that only made humiliation more official.
I’ve worked hard not to let atrocious acts dominate my otherwise positive military experience, nor define me. To continue to harbor my pain would be disrespectful to myself and my family, so as much as possible, I’ve chosen to put my energy into constructive solutions. To give my best to all my pursuits, the same reasons I joined the Marine Corps, I had to forgive both the perpetrators and those who retaliated against me. And to forgive, I had to understand the system that failed them.
Our laws ask the military to do the impossible. It is impossible to expect justice in a legal system run primarily by commanders with no legitimate legal training, who have a vested interest in the outcome of their proceedings, and undeniable favoritisms and bias that are only human nature. But that is how America, unique among our allies, runs military justice. As long as that is the case, predators in the military will feel protected, victims will not come forward, and commanders will follow their natural instincts to disbelieve and crush accusations of their commands’ worst failures.
I was recently invited to speak with some of our nation’s most senior commanders at US Central Command. It was clear to me by their insightful discussion and time spent on the issue, they have good intentions. But it’s unfair to the Commanders that our government asks them to maintain discipline, yet puts them in a position which requires them to defy natural human bias in order to succeed. Indiscipline and injustice result.
We need laws to set our commanders up for success. We would not expect a commander to ask for outside supervision, yet we know impartiality can not exist within a command.. We owe impartiality to our troops, harmed or accused, and we owe it to their commanders to free their time so they can do what they do best: train ready forces, win our nation’s wars, and protect our freedom.Remarks by Ben Klay, November 6, 2013
When I first met my wife in 2007, she loved the Marine Corps and put it above herself. Her deployment to Iraq reinforced this, and she worked nonstop. When she checked into a new command in 2009, everything changed. From the first day, she felt disappointment and concern about the atmosphere. From there I watched her fall into depression from the ill treatment months before the assault happened, and in its aftermath I learned how our military is not organized to address sexual assault.
It gives commanders, who do not have an interest in proving the worst failures of their commands, the authority to decide whether those failures happened; they cannot be impartial, nor can those who work for them be. The first step to addressing sexual assault in the military is to remove its prosecution from the chain of command. It is unfair to expect commanders to be able to maintain good order and discipline as long as their justice system incentivizes and empowers them to deny their units’ worst disciplinary failures ever happened.
When Ariana reported her assault, I learned how this denial works. I read her commander’s conclusions that she deserved ill treatment for wearing running shorts and make up. I read the opinions of the command- appointed investigator, who compared rape to prostitution or marrying a rich man. As for the assault trial, it put Ariana through over 15 hours of degrading testimony, after a year of retaliation and intimidation. The closing statement of that trial was a Marine officer reading the definition of cunt, slut, and whore.
When I arrived to testify, I was seated in a waiting room with one of the rapists, whom the Marine Corps had granted immunity so he could testify that he and his accomplice were innocent. When I finally got to testify, not a single question was asked that would have helped prosecute, not a single question about the day of the assault or its effects on my wife. When I asked why, I was told that would be distracting to the court.
That is what the entire process felt like—a distraction—and it’s organized to be treated that way. Military justice is a secondary duty for a commander, something he didn’t train or sign up for, and a distraction from his mission to fight wars. Imagine a business executive who runs a company and has to oversee the prosecution of felons who perform valuable work for him. He’d be as interested in prosecuting as commanders are, and his workers would be confident about what they could get away with.
I used to feel a commander’s disinterest in the law, too. During my training and deployments to Iraq, I focused on fighting. My life and those of my Marines depended on it. Legal issues were divisive, distracting, and confusing; they made me resent those who brought them to my attention, and feel bias as strong as my relationships with those involved. Commanders can be forgiven for thinking war is their most important job, and it should be expected that they’ll manage their judicial process as a side-show and an annoyance.
Our laws should not put them in that position, nor should their troops have to bear the injustice that results. Even an alleged terrorist on U.S. soil has greater legal protections than a U.S. Marine. I watched the effect of that injustice on Ariana. It takes incredible strength to pull out of that nightmare, and I’m lucky I married someone strong enough to do it, even if she still suffers and has never been the same. She gained wisdom, figured out how to forgive, and though the experience changed her, she refused to let it prevent her from giving her best to her life and those around her. She has a great job in a new career, worked full time while completing her masters degree, and became a national level fitness competitor. I’ve never seen her smarter or stronger than now.
But she never should have had to learn the lessons she did. We don’t think about the most important of these lessons because, as Americans, they’re so basic to our DNA. The idea that justice should be independent and impartial is one of the foundational principles of our government. Our troops deserve its protection too.
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