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SLDN Urges Secretary Gates to Immediately Investigate Failures of Leadership in Rocha Case

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Servicemembers Legal Defense Network announced yesterday that it urged Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to initiate a thorough investigation of repeated psychological, sexual, and physical abuse involving Seaman Joseph Rocha. Under the command of SCPO Michael Toussaint in the Military Working Dog (MWD) Division at Naval Security Force Bahrain from 2004 through 2006, Rocha was forced to simulate sexual acts, spanked repeatedly, hogtied and was forced inside a feces-ridden dog kennel. The lead perpetrator, Chief Touissant, received a “non-punitive letter of caution” and the case was closed. Touissant was later promoted.

“The facts of this case are not in dispute as laid out in the official 2007 Navy investigation,” said Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN executive director. “We question why Chief Petty Officer Touissant was given what amounts to an administrative slap on the wrist, promoted, and allowed to retire? Something went haywire in this investigation and SLDN calls upon Sec. Gates to expeditiously find out what went wrong and why there were repeated failures of leadership up and down the chain of command.”

SLDN called upon Secretary Gates because all those whom the Navy ultimately found responsible for these actions have effectively escaped accountability, even as this matter has been reviewed by the highest levels of the Navy.

The official Navy investigation outlines 21 findings of fact, including numerous incidents of abuse and harassment based, at least in part, on perceived sexual orientation of Seaman Rocha.

“I told no one about what I was living through,” said Rocha in the Washington Post last month. “I feared that reporting the abuse would lead to an investigation into my sexuality.”

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” law prevents those who are targets of abuse from coming forward for fear of getting fired under DADT.

“It is evident there were larger issues of abuse, but specifically in Rocha’s case, DADT gave the perpetrators license to engage in abuse and prevented him from reporting it,” said Sarvis. “We need a clear message from the Department of Defense that our military has zero tolerance for this kind of hazing and harassment. We also need to get rid of the DADT law that forced Rocha and other service members into silence while the Uniform Code of Military Justice was so openly violated.”

Rocha was an outstanding sailor with exemplary reviews , the most recent of which stated, “Petty Officer Rocha is an exceptionally outstanding young Sailor whose performance, initiative, and immeasurable energy makes him a model Master-At-Arms.” SLDN is proud to represent Rocha in this matter.

“I am pursuing those responsible on behalf of all of those impacted by the wide abuse in the Bahrain K9 Unit and for those, gay and straight, in uniform military-wide who experience similar abuse,” Rocha said.