It Won't Fly

TO: President Bush
RE: Air Force Academy

And please, Mr. President, don't forget DonCosta Seawell, the cadet convicted of raping a disabled civilian woman and accused of raping two cadets. After his early release from a military prison, Seawell was exposed by the vigilante anti-pedophile Internet group for trying to sexually entice an adult posing as a fourteen-year-old girl in a chat room. He also contacted his disabled victim -- a clear violation of his probation -- and has landed back in the brig.

The only man to face real punishment for assaulting a female cadet is Douglas Meester, who's scheduled to be court-martialed five days after your visit. He has been charged with rape, forcible sodomy, conduct unbecoming and indecent assault. But is this a case that really exemplifies the decade-old problem at the Air Force Academy? Although forty percent of academy sexual-assault cases since 1993 were found to have involved alcohol, there is some question as to whether the sophomore's accuser, Justine Parks, was really unconscious after a night of body shots in Meester's dorm room. Parks told investigators that she "knew for a fact that [Meester] probably thought what we were doing was consensual." It would appear that this court-martial is an attempt by Air Force officials either to show the public that they don't tolerate behavior such as Meester's or to discredit not only Parks, but all victims.

Sometime after this trial, the Air Force Inspector General is supposed to release the results of its investigation into how top academy brass handled specific cases. Also expected soon are the results of the long-awaited Defense Department Inspector General investigation, a separate inquiry requested by Allard, among others. The women who have gone public in the last year were promised a chance to tell their stories directly to members of Congress as soon as the Defense Department IG report is completed, but it has been delayed time and again.

Whistle-blower: Jessica Brakey
Whistle-blower: Jessica Brakey

It may not matter, though, since both IG reports are rumored to absolve the previous leaders of any wrongdoing. Ring a bell? The Air Force General Counsel report from June 2003 found "no systemic acceptance of sexual assault at the academy, no institutional avoidance of responsibility, or systemic maltreatment of cadets who report sexual assault."

Unfortunately, the Fowler Commission, an independent panel assembled at the behest of Congress, discovered the exact opposite. When the seven commission members looked into the academy, they found "a chasm of leadership" there that "helped create an environment in which sexual assault became a part of life." Interesting how the findings differ when an outside body investigates. The commission, named after its chair, former Florida congresswoman Tillie Fowler, also found fault with the academy's honor system, which, as Westword detailed last summer, has seen its share of problems over the years ("Honor Rolled," July 17, 2003). As soon as cadets enter the academy, they agree to abide by this code: We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Those who claim to have been kicked out of the academy on bogus honor charges say the cadets who run the system often go on witch hunts, leaving unpopular cadets at their mercy. Others say that little stock is placed in the toleration clause of the code, as cadets are reluctant to turn in friends for lying, stealing or cheating. Although the Fowler Commission did not recommend changing the honor system, it did note deficiencies in it "that helped contribute to this intolerable environment."

Again, a familiar theme seems to be playing itself out. In recent weeks, seventy cadets were implicated for cheating on a military etiquette exam. So far, twenty cadets -- all of them freshmen -- have admitted to violating the honor code. Six have resigned; the rest are waiting to learn what sanction, if any, they'll face. Cheating scandals rocked the academy in the late 1960s, in 1972 and in 1984, and yet the honor code has only been tinkered with piecemeal. As Sean Dariushnia, a former cadet who claims he was wrongly accused of cheating on a test in 1993, told Westword, "I don't know what causes people to act the way they do at the academy, but it seems to be repeating itself over and over."

Another piece of repeating history is the lax oversight by the Academy Board of Visitors, which was criticized in months past for having little involvement in the institution it's charged with supervising. Because of the rape scandal, boardmembers have agreed to meet quarterly instead of twice a year. Additionally, James Gilmore, a former governor of Virginia and one of six members appointed by you, Mr. President, has vowed that as chairman, he will not allow the board to just be honorary. Despite these outward displays, only eight of the fifteen members attended the last meeting, on May 15; sometime in the next sixty days, those who showed will send you a letter of their own, detailing their views and recommendations for the academy.

More than likely, they'll mention the fact that one in five male cadets still doesn't feel that women belong at the academy, despite the efforts of the past year. The new superintendent, Lieutenant General John Rosa, is surveying cadets twice annually in an effort to gauge the progress being made. A survey conducted on August 27, 2003, showed that 22 percent of male cadets don't think women should be training alongside them. The second survey, given to seniors in March, yielded similar results. Those are the same seniors you'll be addressing on June 2.

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Where is she now? Andrea K. Prasse has graduated from embarrassing herself to attempting to wreck homes. She is currently employed at Shell where she uses company resources to engage in adulterous affairs with married men. Way to go loser girl!