The War Within

As America prepares to invade Iraq, female Air Force cadets wage their own battle.

After Adam helped Lisa clean the blood off the bathroom floor, he found a place in the house for her to sleep that was "nowhere near Max." It was late, and no one was in any position to drive back to Colorado Springs. But the next morning, Adam saw Max try to hug Lisa. "He looked pretty hung over, and she didn't look happy to see him at all. He gave her a quick hug and said goodbye before he left. As he was putting his shoes on, I noticed a couple of spots of blood on his white socks, like he had stepped in the blood on the bathroom carpet."

After Max left, Lisa's friend Jennifer drove her back to Colorado Springs. As soon as she returned to the academy, Lisa found CASIE program manager Kristy Gorton and told her what had happened, and advocate Guzman took her to Memorial Hospital for an exam. In her report, the examining nurse noted several abrasions, contusions and tears both inside and outside Lisa's vagina. "She told me that this kind of trauma doesn't happen in consensual sex," Lisa remembers.

Two days later, Lisa had an initial meeting with the Office of Special Investigations, during which she requested that her friends not be disciplined for drinking that night, in accordance with academy policy. Two days after that, Lisa's request was granted, and she filed a formal report with the OSI. Investigators told her she could either wait for the secretary of the Air Force to approve a wiretap in order to get a taped confession from Max or forgo the tap and have the OSI begin its investigation immediately. Lisa chose the latter. "I knew Max had boxers and socks with my blood on them, and I wanted them to get those right away," she says.

Jessica Brakey doesn't want rape victims to fear coming forward.
John Johnston
Jessica Brakey doesn't want rape victims to fear coming forward.
The Air Force Academy is the scene of several rape allegations.
John Johnston
The Air Force Academy is the scene of several rape allegations.

(Lisa's friend Justin had confronted Max the morning after the party, but Max reportedly denied having had sex with Lisa; in the sworn statement he would later give to the OSI, Justin explained how he'd told Max that Lisa was a virgin and that blood had been found in the bathroom. "I then told him he should look at his stomach and boxers to see if there was blood there to prove it to himself," Justin wrote. "He proceeded to lift up his shirt to see blood on his boxers.")

The next day, Max was informed of the allegation, and Lisa says cadets in his squadron told her that investigators had left his room with a brown paper bag. "I assume it had his boxers and socks in it, but I never heard anything more about it," she says. In fact, she didn't hear anything more until early 2002, when the academy's legal department informed her that the investigation had ended.

"I was really hoping it would go to a court martial. To me, there was no other route," she says. "I thought I had a pretty good case. All my friends who were at the party gave statements to the OSI."

Before the academy could proceed with a court martial, however, Lieutenant General Dallager had to decide whether to convene an Article 32, essentially a hybrid of a civilian grand jury and a preliminary hearing. In these inquiries, the Air Force prosecutes the accused rapist, making the victim -- who is a prosecution witness rather than a principal party -- more of a bystander to the proceedings. Major Vladimir Shifrin, the academy's chief of military justice, says the prosecuting attorney represents the academy, not the victim. "The Air Force would be my client, and I would prosecute the case in the best interest of the government, not necessarily in the best interest of the victim, and that is something that is explained to the victims from the get-go," he says.

Additionally, while defendants, such as Max Rodriguez, are provided with Air Force attorneys, victims are not. They can obtain civilian counsel to help prepare for the Article 32, but the attorney cannot participate in the inquiry. However, the academy's victim/witness assistance procedures do set some policies for how the victim should be treated: "Prior to going forth with an investigation and trial, cadets should be informed about the nature of questions they will be asked for the purposes of data collection, examination and cross-examination."

But Lisa says that didn't happen in her March 7, 2002, hearing, which was open to the public. "They never brought me into the courtroom to say, 'This is where you're going to sit, here are the questions you'll be asked on cross-examination.' I was going into this totally blind, and they destroyed my credibility."

Although most of the witness statements made it sound as though Max was guilty, one was more ambiguous. Miguel Fernandez, who had driven Lisa to the party and bought alcohol for her, recalled speaking to Lisa the morning after the party. "She told me she was as much at fault as Max. She told me she didn't think they had sex. I brought up the issue of penetration and the definition of a sexual act. After that, she didn't respond. Lisa didn't actually say if there was penetration or not. Lisa said to me, 'I came here as a virgin, and I'm going to leave one, too.'"

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