Aug. 1, 2008 – The Pentagon’s No. 2 personnel and readiness official was admonished and dismissed from a House subcommittee hearing on sexual assault in the military Thursday after admitting that he had directed a key subordinate not to appear.
“Mr. Dominguez, I notice that Dr. Kaye Whitley is not in her chair,” said Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., and chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s national security and foreign affairs panel. “Is it under your direction that she has not shown for testimony this morning?”
“Ah, yes sir,” replied Michael Dominguez, principal deputy under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
“Do you have an executive privilege to assert?” asked Tierney.
“Ah, no sir,” Dominguez replied.
“Mr. Dominguez, this is an oversight hearing,” Tierney said. “It’s an oversight hearing on sexual assault in the military. As such, we thought it was proper to hear from the director of the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. … Inexplicably, the Defense Department – and you, apparently – have resisted.”
Tierney said Whitley would be subpoenaed and that Dominguez’s decision showed disrespect to the two women who had testified moments earleir – one a rape victim, one a rape/murder victim’s mother – as well as other victims and the subcommittee itself.
When Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the full committee chairman, asked for an explanation, Dominguez said that the decision was made “in consultation with the department’s leadership” – the assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs and the Defense Department general counsel.
Whitley “is available to the Congress … unfettered, unmuzzled by us,” and had previously appeared, Dominguez said.
But he added that “in this hearing format, we wanted to ensure and make the point” that he and his boss, Pentagon personnel chief David S.C. Chu, “are the senior policy officials, accountable to Secretary [Robert] Gates and to the Congress for the department’s sexual assault and prevention policies and programs.”
“That’s a ridiculous answer,” Waxman replied. “What is it you’re trying to hide? She’s the one in charge of dealing with this problem. We wanted to hear from her.”
Waxman said the Pentagon “has a history of trying to cover up sexual offense problems … I don’t know what you’re trying to cover up here, but we’re not going to allow it. I don’t know who you think elected you to defy the Congress of the United States. This is an unacceptable, absolutely unacceptable position for the department to take.”
“We decide who we want to have for witnesses at this hearing,” Tierney said. “So for now, Mr. Dominguez, you’re dismissed.”
Dominguez left the witness table for a seat in the audience; within a few minutes, he and his aides walked out of the hearing room.
Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., later said she would seek input from the defense secretary.
“My plan after this hearing is to call Bob Gates and see what light he can shed,” Harman said.
The squabble took up barely 10 minutes of a nearly three-hour hearing that featured testimony from the rape victim, a Red Cross worker who worked with the military, and the rape/murder victim’s mother over the mishandling of their cases; bipartisan expressions of concern over sexual assault in the military and ways to resolve it; and presentation of a Government Accountability Office report on the Defense Department and Coast Guard sexual-assault prevention and response programs.
The GAO found that occurrences of sexual assault may be exceeding the rates being reported. That, said GAO’s Brenda Farrell, suggests that the Pentagon and Coast Guard have only “limited visibility” over the incidence of such occurrences.
At the 14 installations GAO visited, investigators found 52 percent of service members who had been sexually assaulted over the preceding 12 months had not reported the assaults.
Had Dominguez offered his prepared testimony, he would have said that the Pentagon’s ability to deal with sexual assault has been “significantly upgraded” over the past three years. He also would have said that the department “strongly believes” that a “restricted reporting” policy instituted in 2005, which allows victims to confidentially disclose their assault without launching a criminal investigation, is responsible for the reports of 1,896 victims over the past three calendar years who otherwise might not have sought care.