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'Hazing' probe reveals abuse

SAILORS in a Bahrain-based US Navy dog-handling unit were allegedly duct-taped to chairs, forced to bark like dogs and made to participate in training scenarios simulating sexual acts.

Some were allegedly beaten and others sexually assaulted and racially abused in a campaign of fear used to promote favouritism and maintain control, says an inquiry report.

These are some of the 87 counts of hazing found in an internal US Navy investigation into the treatment of sailors at the Military Working Dog (MWD) Unit at the US Base in Juffair dating from 2005 to 2006.

The MWD Unit is responsible for seeking hidden explosives and maintain security on the base.

The 22-page report, which was released on an American website, also claimed that the use of prostitutes within the base was commonplace and even noted an incident where a sailor assaulted one for stealing a CD.

The MWD Unit has remained in the media spotlight after one of its former officers, Joseph Rocha, recently revealed that he suffered multiple cases of hazing during his time with the unit.

Mr Rocha left the US Navy in 2007, after he told his commander he was gay, in violation of the US Navy's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy.

He was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the abuse encountered at the base.

Another officer, Jennifer Valdiva, committed suicide at her Zinj villa in January 2007, shortly after learning she was being indicted after several sailors reported widespread hazing in her unit.

Most of the documents' pages have had some of their information redacted and entire sections relating to the investigator's opinion and recommendations were removed before the document was released.

It is unknown whether anybody was punished for the alleged

abuses. Democratic Representative Joe Sestak had requested last week further information on the probe's findings and promised to intervene in the case.

Misconduct

In a letter to Navy Secretary Raymond Mabus, Congressman Sestak also demanded an explanation as to why the head of the MWD unit at the time had been promoted to senior chief.

The US Navy defines hazing as "any conduct whereby a military member or members, regardless of service or rank, without proper authority causes another military member or members, regardless of service or rank, to suffer or be exposed to any activity which is cruel, abusive, humiliating, oppressive, demeaning or harmful".

The report was released after an officer who worked in the MWD Unit, Shaun Hogan, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of the Navy's investigation.

He later shared them with the website of American journalism training programme Youth Radio, which published the documents online.

The report - dated April 12, 2007 - explained that the investigating officer had drawn a number of conclusions following interviews and individual statements from a number of personnel in the unit.

However, the report highlighted the difficulty that the investigating officers encountered due to the reluctance of sailors to speak on any alleged hazing.

"MWD handlers were very reluctant to discuss any incidents of misconduct with the investigating officer and few were willing to provide written statements even after giving interviews," it said.

"Kennel members failed to report incidents because of fear of retaliation."

It acknowledged that attempts were made to end mistreatment within the unit, however the report stated that any measures to improve morale would often upset senior kennel personnel.

"Members in the MWD unit were mistreated (and) distrust and a racial divide developed in the kennel," the report said. "(Attempts were made) to stop mistreatment and (improve) morale in the kennel by asking what issues existed, ending favouritism, requiring the training team to work and holding everyone accountable.

"These measures upset senior kennel personnel."

The report claimed that prostitutes were regularly invited to MWD functions and would often arrive late at night via chauffeured car.

"MWD personnel also discussed encounters with prostitutes in both Bahrain and UAE villas," it added.

The US Naval Base in Bahrain did not comment on the matter.

Meanwhile, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Rougehead is currently in the process of reviewing a document highlighting the actions taken after the internal investigation into the hazing.

However, the review has not yet been released publicly.

The report concludes by quoting a poster plastered on the walls of the dog kennel, which acts as a chilling reminder. "I will quietly listen to you and pass no judgement. Nor will your spoken words be repeated. I will remain ever silent, ever vigilant, ever loyal," it read.

danm@gdn.com.bh



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