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DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
March 11, 1997 1:30 PM EDT
Mr. Bacon: Welcome. Good afternoon. Glad to see such a loyal crowd here today.

First I'd like to welcome Ms. Karin Veraart from the Netherlands. She's the foreign desk editor for De Volkskrant -- I hope I'm pronouncing these Dutch words correctly -- in Amsterdam, and she's here visiting as part of the USIA's international visitor program. Welcome to our briefing.

I'd also like to make a brief announcement. There was a successful test this morning of the Arrow II anti-tactical ballistic missile. The test was conducted in Israel. In the test, the Arrow II intercepted and hit a modified Arrow I missile which had been launched as a target. This was the fourth test of the Arrow II missile which is being developed jointly by the U.S. and Israel, and it's the second successful intercept out of the four tests so far. Both U.S. and Israeli teams are very satisfied with the test results and the program is ongoing, obviously.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: What about the allegations, innuendos, whatever you want to call them, by the NAACP that perhaps a racial motivation on some of these charges at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, and that perhaps these women had been pressured or coerced to say things that weren't true?

A: First of all, that press conference is ongoing. I've only had a chance to see part of it. I did not hear Mr. Mfume charge racial motivation behind what happened at Aberdeen. And I want to be very clear that the issue at Aberdeen is not race, it's sexual harassment. And that's what the Army is getting to the bottom of. We do not believe this is a racial problem, it's a sexual harassment problem.

Q: Is it correct that those who have been under investigation and those that allegedly have committed offense are all black men?

A: I do not know whether it is true that they're all black men, myself,

Q: A large proportion is...

A: A number of the drill sergeants are black men, yes. That's true.

Q: Is it possible that the Army in its zeal to pursue the issue of sexual harassment might have pressured women into making false statements, going beyond what they intended to say?

A: The Army does not believe that the investigators coerced women into making statements. As I pointed out earlier, the press conference was ongoing, it started much later than anticipated, and the Army will look carefully at the charges that people have made during that press conference, but the Army does not believe it coerced these women to sign false statements. The women did admit that they signed the statements. Several of the women admitted that the statements were not false.

So the charges that were made at the press conference will be sorted out by the Army, but the important thing to focus on here is that the Army is trying to get to the bottom of the sexual harassment allegations. It's launched a five-part program to deal with sexual harassment in the Army. One part of that program, obviously, is prosecution of people who have been charged with wrongdoing, subjecting the charges to trial to find out whether they're true or false.

As you know, the Secretary of the Army has set up a Senior Review Panel to evaluate the Army's sexual harassment policies. There is an IG investigation going on now that's looking at a number of issues, including how the chain of command functioned here. The Army Chief of Staff directed a comprehensive chain teaching program for all active duty units on sexual harassment. And a hotline has been set up which has fielded thousands of calls and complaints of sexual harassment, more than a thousand of which have been investigated or are currently under investigation. So there's an aggressive program by the Army not only to get to the bottom of what happened at Aberdeen, but also to make it very clear that there's a no tolerance policy for sexual harassment in the Army and to do what they can to prevent sexual harassment from recurring.

Q: What is Secretary Cohen's posture about this? I think before you had a chance to hear it, the NAACP president said that, "it was conduct unbecoming the Army," by the way CID conducted the investigation.

My question is, is the Secretary's posture that he's willing to leave this entirely to the Army, or does he feel now that it's gone to a private group and outside the judicial process, that he has an obligation to enter the fray, so to speak?

A: I haven't spoken to the Secretary about these specific allegations because, as I said, they're maybe still going on, the press conference. I have spoken to the Secretary of the Army about this, though, and Secretary West told me that he will look very closely at these charges, but it is not his belief that the Army investigators, the CID, coerced these people into making statements.

Q: Was Secretary West watching the TV...

A: I talked to Secretary West actually before it began.

Q: So he was aware of the upcoming charges...

A: Everybody was aware of it. They had been highly publicized, yes. So I talked to him, I actually talked to him, I think, after the original press conference was supposed to have begun, but it was delayed, as I understand it.

Q: Would you respond to a couple of things Mr. Mfume said now? He called for an independent investigation, an investigation that has nothing to do with the Army. And he also suggested that there might be civil rights violations. Could you respond to either of those two?

A: I think I responded to the civil rights question before you arrived. We do not believe this is a racial issue. This is an issue of sexual misconduct. That was the problem at Aberdeen. That's what the Army's looking into. We don't think that race is an element here. This is simply a question of alleged sexual misconduct.

Q: (Inaudible).be an independent investigation separate from the Army's investigation?

A: These charges were in the process of being made when I came in here. Secretary Cohen will look at them, but this is really an issue for the Army to deal with, and the Army, I think, and he thinks, has been dealing with this very aggressively. We will look at these charges made by the women. As I said, several of the women, as I heard them talking, said that their statements were not wrong. What they objected to, as I understand it, is how the Army had operated after the statements were made.

Several of the women talked about immunity. But some of the women who talked about immunity had not been charged with anything and have not been charged with anything. So I think there may be some confusion here as to whether they were talking about immunity from appearing in trials or appearing in legal proceedings versus being charged with a crime. My understanding is that only one of these women has actually been charged with anything, and the others have not.

So we will look into these charges. We will certainly look into the procedures followed by the Army investigators. This entire set of charges and complaints has been examined under the Army's microscope from the very day it first emerged. Remember, it was the Army that announced this in the first place, and the Army has been working very aggressively to get to the bottom of this. We are not trying to correct a right by creating another wrong. That has never been the Army's intention, and I think they've worked very hard to try to proceed fairly and quickly to make sure that everybody's rights are protected. As I said, Secretary West has no belief, no reason to believe that rights were compromised here in the course of the investigation. But because we want to be fair and because we want to be thorough, the Army will look at what's been said and try to get to the bottom of it.

Q: Did Secretary West indicate to you that the Army still intends to move forward on the various charges against the individuals? Does the recanting of a statement affect the legal process in any way?

A: I think that all of this has to be approached very systematically because I heard some of the women say that the statements they signed were not wrong. So it's very important to sit down with every statement and to go through it systematically, comparing what was sworn in the written statements signed by the women on the one hand, with what they're saying today. I'm sure the Army will do that. They'll do that as soon as they have a completed transcript of the press conference, they'll begin to get to the bottom of this.

Remember, we're dealing here with legal proceedings, including court martials, that will involve full trials and a presentation of evidence. One of the things the Army has to be very careful about is undertaking any sort of activity that would compromise their own cases that they're trying to make against people who have been charged with sexual misconduct. The Army wants to get to the bottom of this. It wants to make sure that people are brought to justice for proven misconduct. It doesn't want to take steps that would weaken its case and make it difficult to bring these people to justice.

Q: Did the Department of Defense and/or the Army approve of these potential witnesses appearing before a press conference sponsored by the NAACP? Does that not raise some legal questions given the position the NAACP has publicly stated? That's a two- part question.

The other part is, have the NAACP's complaints ever been forwarded to you in a formal way as opposed to being released through the media?

A: I can't answer the second question. I know that Mr. Mfume had plans to talk with Secretary West, and as of this morning when I talked to Secretary West, he had not spoken to Mr. Mfume about this incident. I do not know if the NAACP has filed a formal complaint with the Army, but we will find that out.

Q: (Inaudible)...go public on that kind of thing?

A: I'm not a lawyer and I'm afraid I just can't answer that question. We can try to get an answer to that.

Q: (Inaudible)...asked just a few minutes ago that it might be an independent investigation. Have you addressed that?

A: I have addressed it to say that the Army will have to decide. Secretary Cohen believes and the Army believes that it's proceeding aggressively here, but the Army will look at these charges. The Army has never tried to, since this began at Aberdeen, has never done anything to suggest that it doesn't want to get to the bottom of any problem connected with the sexual misconduct allegations. It will look aggressively at these contentions by the women today, as well.

Q: Can you state the Department's policy on consensual sex between drill sergeants and the people under their charge?

Q: It is still illegal for...

A: It is wrong. It is improper. It is not allowed.

Q: It's punishable by...

Q: Is it also punishable under the UCMJ?

A: It is punishable.

Q: What's the reg for the Army specifically on consensual sex on duty...

A: The Army will get you that. You want to know the number of the regulation?

Q: Yes, that would help. You're talking about consensual sex on government property, on base, on duty?

A: No. The issue here is the relationship between a trainer and a trainee. The Army regulations bar intimate relationships between trainers and trainees, between drill sergeants and trainees, because they are fraught with misuse of power, with misuse of influence, or the possibilities of misuse of power and influence. So the Army regulations ban those, they make them improper, and they are punishable. That's the issue here. Whether or not there was an improper consensual sexual relationship.

Now having said that, it is my understanding that not all the women involved here have been charged with improper activity. But as I said, what this press conference requires in response is a very systematic evaluation of what was said and a comparison of what was said today with what these women said in their sworn statements, and the Army will do that because the Army wants to get to the bottom of this.

Q: As I understand one of the basic criticisms the women leveled was that the investigators they talked to coerced them and intimidated them. These kinds of statements of rape. Do you know anything about those investigators? Were they all investigated by the same person or a small group of...

A: I don't know that. I don't know that. The Army will, as I said earlier, the Army does not believe that coercion was an issue here, and these women did sign statements. The women had a right to counsel. The Army will review what happened to make sure that procedures were followed carefully.

Q: Did any of the women at the beginning of the news conference sign statements alleging that rape or a serious sexually related crime had occurred, and have any charges been brought against anyone on the basis of statements made by any of the women at the news conference?

A: I'm not aware that any of the women alleged rape.

Q: A question about whether the NAACP sent anything in writing as a formal complaint? It may have come to someone other than the Army.

A: The Army will check into that.

Q: Whether the Department received any, and if it has been received, could it be released to us so we could see what they said?

A: The Army will check into this. I don't believe there was any formal complaint, and Colonel Bridges just handed me a note saying "To the best of the Army's knowledge, the NAACP has not filed any formal complaint with the Army or any charges alleging improper practices."

Q: So this appears to be strictly a media...

A: I don't know whether the medium was the whole message, but certainly the medium was CNN for delivering the message, and we have not received any, to the best of my knowledge, the Army has not received any formal complaint.

Q: Were these interviews with these women tape recorded, and were they advised...

A: I don't know the answer to that. The Army will be able to provide the answer to that question.

Q: Does this strike you that may be a case of the Army being excessively aggressive in pursuing these charges?

A: I have no reason to believe that the Army was excessively aggressive.

Q: Does it not perhaps seem like a defense attorney tactic?

A: I think that's the type of questioning you could have asked the defense attorneys had you been at the press conference, but I won't speculate on the defense attorneys' tactics. But I will point out that several of these women have not been charged with anything.

Q: Are you able to say whether or not any of the women who gave the news conference have admitted to having consensual sex with senior...

A: Several of the women said that they had admitted, and that the admissions were correct.

Q: You feel that they said that?

A: All I saw is what was on the television before I came in here, but this is... The Army will be able to give you a complete and systematic rundown of what the women had said.

Q: Do I understand you to be saying that one of the women has been charged with an offense in that regard, consensual sex?

A: One of the women who spoke is Private First Class Toni Moreland, who has been charged with being absent without leave, disobeying a direct order, making a false statement under oath, and these charges have been referred to a summary court martial, but no date has been set for the court martial.

Q: Have any of the women been charged with violation of military conduct in terms of consensual sex?

A: The Army will give you a complete rundown on that. I'm not aware that they have.

Q: Were the women advised of their rights formally like in a civil case? In other words, when they were questioned, you have the right to be represented a lawyer if you so desire?

A: Everyone interviewed was read her rights.

Q: Which included right to counsel?

A: I believe that it did include... Yes, it did include the opportunity to consult legal counsel, and this is part of the standard proceeding by the Army investigators. But as I said, the Army will go back in light of this and review what happened to make sure that the investigations were carried out competently.

Q: What is the original makeup of the facility? What percentage of the drill sergeants are black, what percentage of the female trainees are white?

A: I do not have those figures, but the Army will get those figures for you. I can tell you that the makeup of the Ordnance Center and School at Aberdeen is 29 percent African American, 58 percent white, and 13 percent other, which is largely either Hispanic or Asian. That compares very closely with the ethnic makeup of the Army as a whole which is 27 percent African American, 61 percent white, and 12 percent other. But to your specific question, the Army will give an answer.

Q: What is the reaction of the Defense Department? Is there disappointment to the violations of U.S. federal law by the intrusion, manipulation, through payoffs and otherwise, by the People's Republic of China government? They've got our government fighting amongst ourselves. Could you reply to allegations about the deal on the naval base, the Long Beach Naval Shipyard deal to the Chinese firm that is a front for the PRC?

A: On the first question the Justice Department... The answer is simply no, so I won't pursue that.

The second question, I can talk a little bit about the Long Beach operation. I'll start by pointing out that the China Ocean Shipping Company, known as COSCO, has been operating in Long Beach for about 15 years. It is one of the world's largest ocean carriers. Because trade between the United States and China has been booming over the last several years, there's been increased business for COSCO. As a result, COSCO has been looking for ways to expand its operations on the West Coast. It's basically been looking at three sites -- Seattle, Los Angeles, and Long Beach, California.

One of the reasons that Long Beach... All three of these places would like to have COSCO expand its operations there because it means more jobs and more business for their port. Long Beach has been working very hard to strike a deal or a contract or a lease with COSCO because some Navy facilities have been shut down by the BRAC process -- the Base Realignment and Closure Process. In 1991, the BRAC Commission decided to close down the Naval station in Long Beach, California. It's a site of 197 acres, and it's one of several Naval properties in Long Beach, California. It basically consists of wharfs and piers, and I'll just stop here to ask if anybody knows the difference between a wharf and a pier. This is something George, you should certainly know. This is a little test.

Q: A wharf you can store goods; but a pier you just have to tie up to.

A: That's basically right. (Laughter) George, you get a special prize for this. They had wharfs and piers at the Naval station where cruisers and destroyers could dock. It's right next to the Long Beach Naval Shipyard which was closed down by a later BRAC proceeding. As I said earlier, the Naval station was closed down in the, was identified for close-down in the 1991 BRAC process. By September 30, 1994, all Naval operations and Naval personnel had been removed from Naval Station Long Beach. So the operation has been empty since 1994, nothing's been happening there. Long Beach has been desperate to bring in more business, or tenants for that area. The one they've been pursuing aggressively is COSCO, the China Ocean Shipping Company.

So COSCO would be moving in there if it struck a deal with the City of Long Beach to set up an operation and basically expand the current commercial operation that it has in Long Beach. I see absolutely nothing wrong with this. The City of Long Beach, under the BRAC process, becomes basically the redevelopment, the local redevelopment authority. All the negotiations for future use of closed military properties takes place between the local redevelopment authority and potential tenants or users of that property, so the Navy hasn't been involved in this at all. What the Navy has been involved with is dealing with the City of Long Beach to clear up the environmental concerns and other issues that have to be sorted out before the property can be turned over, finally, to the City of Long Beach. That hasn't happened yet. That could happen by the end of the year. Right now what's happening is that the City of Long Beach has filed a very thick statement under the National Environmental Policy Act laying out its compliance with all the environmental regulations, and that process is currently under public review for 45 days. Then there will have to be a summary to the comments and a response by the Navy before we go into the next phase of trying to complete the environmental clearances necessary to turn this over.

Q: Wow! (Laughter)

Q: That's what they call a proportionate response! (Laughter)

A: And I'm ready to do more! I can launch again. (Laughter)

Q: Ken, doesn't this reward.the PRC, that on the other hand is trying to influence our policy illegally?

A: We have a policy of engagement with China. A central part of that policy is expanding commercial relations with China. That's what would be done here. If the City of Long Beach were to be able to take over this former Naval facility and enlist COSCO as a tenant, it would expand his trade coming into and leaving from the city of Long Beach. This is something that Long Beach desperately wants. It's been working very hard on this for a number of years. In fact, they have a plan that involves a number of parts. It involves building a new rail line into the former Naval station called the Alameda Corridor, and they've been dealing with the Department of Transportation to get money for the rail line. It involves building an amusement park on some former Navy property, and they've received a $40 million loan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help them build an amusement park to generate more jobs on former government property there.

So I don't see this in any way out of the ordinary. This is exactly a good example of how the BRAC process is supposed to work, how cities are supposed to turn former government property into private money-producing operations

Q: I wanted to know if the Department had any comment on these renewed allegations that a friendly fire incident brought down TWA...

A: They are bunkum. Bunkum.

Q: How do you spell that?

A: I don't have spell check up here.

Look, these allegations have been investigated time after time after time. They have the credibility of Pierre Salinger behind them and nothing can change that.

Q: Let the record show he was the government spokesman. (Laughter)

A: But fortunately, not in this building.

The Navy has investigated this many times. The FBI has investigated it. The National Transportation Safety Board has investigated it. We have absolutely no evidence that there was any incident like this. All missiles owned by the Navy, by any ships, submarines or planes in the area have been inventoried, personnel have been interviewed, records have been checked. There is absolutely no evidence to support this theory. There was not evidence two months ago, there's not evidence now. And this does not -- a new set of allegations rehashing the old theories -- does not make for new evidence. If you'd like me to state it more clearly, I can.

Q: I have a note on my kind of a tickler file that the Secretary was supposed to file a report to Congress March 1 on how you're prepared to reduce OSD staffing. It's one of those last year's mandates. Has such a report been forwarded?

A: I'll have to check. There are hundreds of reports that we're expected to file with Congress, and we're doing our very best to file them in a timely manner and to make the reports as complete and useful as possible. So I will check to see if we have, in fact, filed that report.

Q: On this friendly fire thing, have you seen this alleged new tape, and is that what you referred to when you talk about bunkum?

A: I have not seen the tape. I've been informed that it, this tape has been reviewed earlier, but I have not seen the tape so I don't have any first-hand evidence that it's been reviewed, but I've been informed that it's been reviewed many times.

Q: Is this the same tape that surfaced some time ago shortly after the incident that this building described as being a spurious object on the radar tape, an anomaly. Is this the tape that we're talking about?

A: Well, I think so, but I haven't seen the tape so I can't comment directly on it. What I can say is that we have examined this from the supply side. We have gone to all the vessels and airplanes that might have had missiles or sonar buoys or any type of military equipment on them and checked to see if any were missing after this, and none were missing. There's been a full and complete inventory of everything that was supposed to be on Naval vessels and planes. We have absolutely no evidence to support this theory, which has been floating around in the Internet and the ether and in the press for a considerable amount of time, but we find absolutely no support for it.

Q: Just one more...

A: Would you like more information about the Long Beach Naval Station? (Laughter)

Q: Personally, I think it's kind of strange we reward China with such a concession, but I wanted to ask about the Arrow.

A: Long Beach would consider this a great reward for itself. It's worked very hard to achieve this. This is why the mayor of Long Beach has come to Washington to discuss this with government officials. She's worked very hard on trying to win this operation for Long Beach, so she would consider this a huge benefit for the City of Long Beach to have a contract with COSCO.

Q: Tell us about the Arrow. Does the U.S. have access to all the technology, the hardware, etc., of this Arrow that is being developed with Israel?

A: We're co-developers of it, and I believe we do.

Q: Does it substitute for the THAAD?

A: No. There are a number of differences, but the most fundamental difference is that THAAD is mobile and this is not a mobile system. This is an entirely different system.

Press: Thank you.

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