President Barack Obama tore into U.S. troops who commit sexual assault for "betraying the uniform that they're wearing," on Tuesday, responding to a recent spate of criminal allegations currently commanding headlines and attention in Congress.
Obama said he has told the Pentagon's highest chain of command that he has "no tolerance for this." In a press conference at the White House just minutes before the Pentagon was to release its latest report to Congress, the president called for more than just words.
"I expect consequences. So -- so I don't want just more speeches or, you know, awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way. If we find out somebody's engaging in this stuff, they got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged -- period."
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, later said, "We know we've got big problems." Hagel vowed to hold commanders accountable for sexual assault in the ranks.
The president's statement comes hours after a heated hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee where Air Force leaders were grilled over the sexual assault issue. Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the DOD report issued today reveals there are 70 sexual assaults each day involving military personnel, and called it a "plague" among the Armed Forces.
The president's comments come one day after it was revealed that the top Air Force officer in charge of sexual assault prevention was arrested over the weekend for sexual battery. Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinksi allegedly was drunk when he groped a female who alerted police, in Crystal City, Virginia, near the Pentagon.
Here is the president's full quote:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let's start with the principle that sexual assault is an outrage. It is a crime. That's true for society at large, and if it's happening inside our military, then whoever carries it out is betraying the uniform that they're wearing. And they may consider themselves patriots, but when you engage in this kind of behavior, that's not patriotic; it's a crime. And we have to do everything we can to root this out.
Now, this is not a new phenomenon. One of the things that we've been trying to do is create a structure in which we're starting to get accurate reporting. And up and down the chain, we are seeing a process, a system of accountability and transparency so that we can root this out completely. And this is a discussion that I had with Secretary Panetta. He had begun the process of moving this forward. But I have directly spoken to Secretary Hagel already today in indicating to him that we're going to have to, you know, not just step up our game; we have to exponentially step up our game to go at this thing hard.
And for those who are in uniform who've experienced sexual assault, I want them to hear directly from their commander in chief that I've got their backs. I will support them. And we're not going to tolerate this stuff. And there will be accountability.
If people have engaged in this behavior, they should be prosecuted. And anybody in the military who has knowledge of this stuff should understand this is not who we are. This is not what the U.S. military is about. And it dishonors the vast majority of men and women in uniform who carry out their responsibilities and obligations with honor and dignity and incredible courage every single day.
So bottom line is I have no tolerance for this. I have communicated this to the secretary of defense. We're going to communicate this again to folks up and down the chain in -- in areas of authority. And I expect consequences. So -- so I don't want just more speeches or, you know, awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way. If we find out somebody's engaging in this stuff, they got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged -- period. It's not acceptable.
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