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Rep. Wants Answers on Abused, Gay Sailor


A congressman is asking for detailed information about a sailor who was abused by his cohorts, one of whom was promoted despite his superiors' knowledge of the abuse. U.S. representative Joe Sestak sent a letter on September 11 to Navy secretary Raymond Mabus asking for an investigation into Petty Officer Third Class Joseph Rocha's case.

"Since 2006, Joseph Rocha has developed symptoms of PTSD and was discharged from the Navy under 10 U.S.C. Section 654, commonly referred to as 'don't ask, don't tell,'" Sestak wrote. "Prior to his time in Bahrain, Petty Officer Rocha had graduated at the top of his military class and served his country honorably as a military police officer. He received favorable performance evaluations throughout his career."

Rocha was assigned to a military canine unit in Bahrain. It was revealed earlier this month that he was abused by unit mates, who allegedly forced him into a dog kennel full of feces while bound to a chair. Rocha said he was also forced to simulate oral sex with a man more than 30 times.

Sestak, a former admiral, said his inquiry for more information on Rocha's case is because of the danger such actions put on other military personnel.

"When a man or woman puts on a military uniform, he or she immediately assumes a commonality of purpose with all fellow service members," he wrote. "Failing to treat everyone with the same level of dignity and allowing acts of assault or battery to go unaddressed, would be counter to not only our national values, but to the concept of brotherhood and sisterhood that I learned is so essential to -- and such a key part of -- the spirit of our armed forces."

After the letter picked up steam in the media, the Navy announced it was looking into Rocha's case. A spokesman told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the Chief Petty Officer's actions "do not reflect who we are as a Navy."

The abuse began six weeks into Rocha deployment in 2004 when he was ostracized for not being interested in prostitutes. He did not report the abuse until 2006 for fear of retaliation and discharge under the military's ban on openly gay service members.

Rocha was discharged from the Navy when he reported the abuse to his commanding officer and admitted that he is gay.

Nathaniel Frank, senior research fellow at the Palm Center, a think tank that studies gender and sexuality in the military, said Rocha's case illustrates how the ban on gay and lesbian service members puts those personnel in greater danger.

"Any law or policy that singles out one group as a threat to the greater good is a green light to treat that group in demoralizing and dangerous ways," said Frank, author of Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America. "The current policy is especially insidious because it allows the group to serve but casts it as a menace. It's one thing to say, 'You're too old, so you're not eligible.' But this policy says 'Gays are eligible, they're serving with you, but by the way, they're an unacceptable risk to your mission.' It's no wonder they're sometimes a punching bag."

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