In a Democracy Now! exclusive, Army Specialist Suzanne Swift speaks out in her first national broadcast interview. After serving in Iraq, Swift was arrested and confined to base for going AWOL. She says she was sexually harassed and abused by her commanders in Iraq and at home. In the interview, Swift reveals for the first time that an Army investigation concluded in July that they could not substantiate her claims. Swift says, “For women considering going into [the military]: Don’t.” Her attorney, Keith Scherer, says, “It’s pretty clear from the language in the report that they didn’t do a diligent investigation.” [includes rush transcript]
Today, a Democracy Now exclusive. For the past several months, we have been covering the case of Suzanne Swift–she is the Army Specialist who was arrested and confined to base for going AWOL after her charges of sexual harassment and assault went un-addressed by the military.
Suzanne served in Iraq for a year but decided she could not return and went AWOL. She said she was sexually harassed both in Iraq and at her base in Fort Lewis, Washington. In June, the police arrested Suzanne in Eugene, Oregon and took her to the county jail. She was then transferred to Fort Lewis where she was confined to her base for 2 months.
Last week the Army completed its investigation into Swift’s charges. Today, for the first time, Suzanne speaks to us _live–She’s on the phone from Eugene Oregon. Also on the line are Suzanne’s attorney, Keith Scherer and her mother, Sara Rich.
- Suzanne Swift, she went AWOL in January of 2006. She alleges she was sexually harassed repeatedly by her superiors in the Army.
- Keith Scherer, military defense attorney. We are also joined by Suzanne’s attorney, Keith Scherer. He is a partner at Gagne, Scherer & Associates.
- Sara Rich, mother of Suzanne Swift.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, for the first time, Suzanne Swift speaks to us live in this national broadcast. She’s on the phone from her home in Eugene, Oregon. We’re also on the line with Suzanne’s attorney, Keith Scherer, as well as Suzanne’s mother, Sara Rich, who has joined us twice on this broadcast. We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Suzanne Swift went AWOL in January of 2006. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Suzanne Swift.
SUZANNE SWIFT: Thanks, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about why you went AWOL? Tell us why you joined the military, why you left, and then we’ll come up to today.
SUZANNE SWIFT: I joined the Army in — I joined the late entry program in 2002. Then I finished high school. And I joined the Army to be a military police officer. And they basically implied that military police officers are law enforcement, which is partially true, but military police officers are actually probably one of the most deployed MLSs in the military, which is not what the recruiter told me. And when I joined the Army, I went to basic training in August of 2003. And then in February of 2004, I was deployed to Iraq. Okay. Goodness, I don’t know what else to say.
AMY GOODMAN: So you went to Iraq, and how long were you there?
SUZANNE SWIFT: I was in Iraq for a year. I spent all of the time in Camp Lima in Karbala.
AMY GOODMAN: And what happened to you there?
SUZANNE SWIFT: As soon as I got to my unit, the 66th MP Company, it was basically constant sexual harassment. And I reported to a squad leader who, looking back now, I feel like he was just setting me up to be like his little Iraq deployment person to have sex with. And, you know, it started out — he singled me out. And any guy that would talk to me, he’d be like, “Oh, he likes you. He wants to have sex with you.” And it kind of isolated me.
AMY GOODMAN: This is your supervising officer?
SUZANNE SWIFT: This is my supervising noncommissioned officer, yes. And coming out of basic training, where it’s the ideal Army setting, you know, everybody is impeccable with everything, and then going, you know, into the active duty regular Army, you — I’m trying to think how to explain it. It’s a culture shock, because you go from the perfect army into somewhere where people say things like — I don’t know — “Why are you looking at me like you want to have sex with me?” And, you know, this is your supervisor that’s four ranks above you. It’s just a huge shock, and you don’t know what to do.
AMY GOODMAN: So what did you do?
SUZANNE SWIFT: You know, the first time when somebody said that to me, I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say. And I told the guy he lost his mind, and I left. And I tried to report it. I approached the company equal opportunity officer, and he informed me — I told him exactly what happened. And he informed me that the company commander would want to speak to me and that, you know, something would probably happen about this. And nothing ever happened. Nothing at all.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you deal with a charge like this? How do you bring it up? Is there an equal opportunity officer that you can turn to that has been identified?
SUZANNE SWIFT: There’s an equal opportunity representative for every company in the Army. They all have one. And they are supposed to report it. And everything that you tell them that has to do with equal opportunity, they are supposed to report it, no matter what. No matter what happens, even if there’s no action taken, they have to report it.
AMY GOODMAN: Did they report it in your case?
SUZANNE SWIFT: No.
AMY GOODMAN: So what did you do?
SUZANNE SWIFT: Nothing. I didn’t know. I was brand new to the Army and just basically got thrown into the mix of this company and then sent to Iraq. I had no idea what to do.
AMY GOODMAN: Was there more than one officer involved?
SUZANNE SWIFT: Right. Well, the one that I tried to report was my platoon sergeant. And, you know, looking back now, I had a squad leader who literally singled me out to be the person that he was going to have sex with during the deployment. And, you know, I did. I was 19. I fell for it, and for months I was like his little sex slave, I guess. It was disgusting and it was horrible, and I didn’t know what to do.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, ultimately, what happened?
SUZANNE SWIFT: Ultimately, I stopped it. I told him that I didn’t want to continue this relationship. And he made my life hell. I mean, a squad leader in the Army is basically — that’s your boss. Everything that you do — eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, when you go to work, everything — they can tell you when to do it and how to do it. And he made my life miserable, because I wouldn’t have sex with him anymore.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about official punishments that he doled out to you?
SUZANNE SWIFT: Once he made me carry a clock around for probably about two weeks, because I was nine minutes early instead of ten minutes early. So I was one minute late to be ten minutes early to PT, so I had to carry around a wall clock.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, carry it around?
SUZANNE SWIFT: I mean, everywhere I went, to the shower, to the bathroom, outside my room. If I left my room, I had to have the clock.
AMY GOODMAN: And you had to hold a wall clock with you?
SUZANNE SWIFT: Uh-huh. I had to have the wall clock with me. Or once, I don’t remember what it was for, but I had to get dressed in all of my gear and walk from my room all the way to our office on the other side of camp in all my gear with all of my weapons. And I’m not sure. I think I might have had the clock at that point. I had to do it on the hour every hour from 8:00 at night until like 2:00 in the morning and then go to work the next day.
AMY GOODMAN: Suzanne, we’re going to break for stations to identify themselves, and then we’re going to come back and find out, at the end of your first tour in Iraq, coming back to Fort Lewis, what happened. This is Suzanne Swift. She’s speaking out in this national broadcast for the first time. She joined the military police, went to Iraq and says that her superiors, her supervising officers, sexually harassed her both in Iraq and also back home at her base in Fort Lewis.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest on the phone is Suzanne Swift. She joined the military police. She went to Iraq, was there for about a year, came home and then went AWOL, when she was supposed to be going to Iraq again. Talk about, Suzanne, the end of your time in Iraq and returning home and the decision you made not to return when your unit was being redeployed.
SUZANNE SWIFT: I was not dealing with what had happened to me. I don’t think I really — I don’t think I really understood the whole military sexual trauma issue and how it actually affected me. You know, I still have a hard time dealing with that, but, you know, I just couldn’t. I was still in the situation. And, you know, as soon as I got back from Iraq, we had a month of leave, when you come back, and I had a team leader, another noncommissioned officer, who was sexually harassing me. And, you know, I didn’t — I knew what to do this time. And, you know, at first, I just told him to shut up and told him to leave me alone. And he’d call me and ask me about my underwear in the middle of the night. And, you know, once he told me to report to his bed naked, or that was my place of duty for the day.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?
SUZANNE SWIFT: I mean, I asked him, “Where do I report at 9:00 when work starts?” And he said, “On my bed, naked.”
AMY GOODMAN: Did you report this?
SUZANNE SWIFT: No, no, I sure didn’t. I found out from another soldier what I was supposed to be doing that day.
AMY GOODMAN: No. I meant did you report what he had said to you to an EO officer?
SUZANNE SWIFT: Oh, I’m sorry. Yes, eventually I did. One day he looked at me and he goes, “You want to 'f' me, don’t you?” And he said it quiet, but he said it in front of people. And I said, “You need to shut the 'f' up.” And he goes, “You need to learn how to talk to an NCO. Go do pushups,” because I had told him not to talk to me like that. And, you know, I told him I needed to use the bathroom. So he let me leave the room and I went and found the same equal opportunity officer who I had tried to report a year before. And I told him exactly what happened. And I sat down and filled out a sworn statement. And everything was handled the way it was supposed to be that time.
And then, at the end of — you know, they did an investigation into it. I basically was accused of sleeping with him. When I said that I had never slept with him, I was told I needed to go read the company policy on honesty, because I was telling them that I hadn’t had sex with him, which was true. And then, you know, at the end, they read you exactly what they have done, what action was taken.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
SUZANNE SWIFT: And after all of that, my company commander and first sergeant, both women, told me that I needed to sit down with them and do some role playing so I could learn how to prevent sexual harassment in the future, as if I had somehow invited this on myself, like it were my fault that he was sexually harassing me.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Suzanne, talk about your decision not to redeploy to Iraq.
SUZANNE SWIFT: I don’t think it was a decision so much as just a reaction. I couldn’t put myself — I could not let myself be in that situation again. You know, it may or may not have happened again, but it’s a possibility. Any squad leader has the power to do that. It’s not — this guy wasn’t anything special. Any squad leader could do that to any soldier and make their life miserable. And I just couldn’t put myself in that position, you know. In Iraq, there is nowhere to go. You can’t — you cannot get away from it. And, you know, basically you’re alone, and nobody is going to help you.
AMY GOODMAN: And so describe —
SUZANNE SWIFT: I’m sorry.
AMY GOODMAN: Describe what happened when you told your mother you weren’t going to deploy. Had you already sent your things ahead?
SUZANNE SWIFT: Yeah, I did. You know, I packed my little extra footlocker full of stuff, just things that I thought I would need over there. I packed it up and put it in the CONEX, and it was sent over. And I had all my stuff ready to go in my apartment, just packed up. And I was coming down for the weekend just to say bye to everybody. And it got to be Sunday night, and I was supposed to be at work at 6:00 in the morning on Monday. It got to be Sunday night, and I had my car keys in my hand and I was walking out the door. And I just stopped.
I said, “I can’t do it. I can’t go.” I looked at my mom and I told her, I was like, “I can’t go.” And she said, “Seriously?” And I was like, “I just can’t do it.” I just felt — my heart was pounding, and I felt like I was just frozen. I think I kind of stuttered when I said, “I can’t do it.” It was hard to get words out. It was terrifying. And, you know, it’s a big thing to do. And, of course, Mom got on the phone and got on the internet and started looking up resources. And we hired an attorney a couple of days later.
AMY GOODMAN: And how long did you go AWOL, absent without leave, for?
SUZANNE SWIFT: Five months, from January until June.
AMY GOODMAN: And then what happened?
SUZANNE SWIFT: And then I was sitting in my living room just watching a movie with my sister, and all of a sudden, there’s cops shining flashlights into my face through the outside window, saying “Are you Suzanne Swift?” And I was like, “Oh, my god! It’s happening.” I was scared of it in the first couple months, but, you know, nothing happened for five months. So all of a sudden, there’s police at my house. It’s not something I expected.
And they handcuffed me and took me to jail. And I was there for — I was in Lane County jail for three days with an abscessed tooth, which was not fun. And the AWOL apprehension team came and got me from the Lane County jail and took me back to the 54th at Fort Lewis, the 54th MP Company, and they basically just signed me over. And then I had to report back to the same platoon sergeant who was the first person that sexually harassed me when I came into the active duty Army.
AMY GOODMAN: He was your supervising officer again. The police came, got you. Then the military came and retrieved you from the jail after three days and put you under the supervision of the man you had charged with abusing you.
SUZANNE SWIFT: Right. And, you know, I just want to point out that these noncommissioned officers, to their soldiers, they are supposed to be like parents. They are supposed to make sure that you’re clean and fed and taken care of, and especially when you’re a new private, because basically, as far as the Army is concerned, they’re like little kids, and you have to take care of them and teach them things. So when a noncommissioned officer, instead of teaching and taking care of the soldiers, starts sexually harassing them and trying to have sex with them, it’s almost an incestuous relationship. That’s how twisted it is. It’s not just like your boss. It’s supposed to be your parent. And I don’t think people really understand that.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Suzanne Swift, what did you do then? You are now being confined to base under the man who you say abuses you.
SUZANNE SWIFT: Well, of course, I called my lawyer. And by the end of the night, that situation was fixed, and I reported to somebody else. And I just basically spent my time at Fort Lewis. I didn’t have anything to do. And I didn’t have any uniform, of course, because I had just got out of jail. So the first couple weeks was just me getting in-processed back into Fort Lewis. It actually took them — I got there on June 13th, I think. And I didn’t get paid until August 1st. So that was not fun. And I just in-processed back in.
It was actually more traumatic and more eye-opening about this whole situation. Just being away from it and going back, I think it brought out a lot more of the trauma that I experienced. And, you know, I’ve been very depressed, but things are starting to get better there. They gave me a job, where I actually have something to do, and they let me come home for counseling, which was good. Every other week, I get to come home and see the family and stuff.
AMY GOODMAN: Are they investigating? Is the Army investigating your charges?
SUZANNE SWIFT: They did investigate my charges. And the investigation was over on July 11th. But I just now got the report of it. And basically they said they couldn’t substantiate my claims of sexual harassment.
AMY GOODMAN: So they say you’re lying.
SUZANNE SWIFT: Right. And I don’t think they really care one way or the other, honestly.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s bring your lawyer into this discussion. Welcome to Democracy Now!
KEITH SCHERER: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: What about this investigation? How long did it go on? What does this mean?
KEITH SCHERER: The investigation, it didn’t go on very long. And this report was completed two months ago. Only finding out about it now. And the Army has used that investigation as an excuse as to why it never took action against Suzanne or why it hasn’t taken action against her. And if you read the report, you’re not going to know anything more about the case than you know right now. The investigator didn’t turn up anything. And it’s pretty clear from the language that he uses in the report that they didn’t do a diligent investigation.
And what they should have done when one of their own hand-picked leaders has been accused of committing numerous crimes against one of their junior soldiers is, they should have had an experienced investigator do a thorough investigation. And instead, if you read the memo, it reads as a CYA memo focusing on the Army’s lack of knowledge when Suzanne was overseas. It’s true that they can’t do anything to her squad leader now, because he’s separated from the Army. But what they can do is they can do justice in Suzanne’s case.
AMY GOODMAN: Where is he right now, the man, the officer who supervised her and who she charges sexually abused her? What is he doing right now?
KEITH SCHERER: He’s a civilian.
AMY GOODMAN: Is he in Iraq or here?
KEITH SCHERER: Well, I believe he works with a civilian contractor who does business in Iraq. I don’t know where he is geographically.
AMY GOODMAN: Which military contractor?
SUZANNE SWIFT: Blackwater, I believe.
KEITH SCHERER: Yeah, Blackwater.
AMY GOODMAN: He works for Blackwater now in Iraq?
SUZANNE SWIFT: Yes.
KEITH SCHERER: And, Amy, if you read this report, what you’re going to see is, the Army is trying to have it both ways. You asked if they accused her of lying. They didn’t really go that far. What they said is, “We couldn’t corroborate her allegations.” And yet, the report contains no indications that Suzanne has any credibility issues or that anybody that she reported this to over in Iraq has any credibility issues. And, in fact, in one paragraph, it will say, “We couldn’t substantiate the allegation,” but in the next paragraph, it says, “And in any case, she resolved the situation successfully on her own by talking it through with another soldier and by telling this guy to leave her alone.” And Suzanne’s right, this really is a blaming-the-victim situation. What they’re saying is, ’It’s not our fault, and she didn’t pursue this aggressively enough, and she took care of it on her own anyway.’
And so the Army’s approach in this case to handling the sexual harassment — you know, it might have been state of the art in 1805, but in the current culture, it really is the equivalent of blaming the victim. They’re putting it on her then, and they’re putting it on her now, because she’s the only one who they’re seeking to punish, to the point that they’re seeking jail time and a conviction and a dishonorable discharge, and numerous things that are going to follow her around for the rest of her life, destroy her life, really. And so, even though they couldn’t necessarily punish this other person, because they don’t have jurisdiction over him anymore, they should have aggressively investigated this to see whether one of their soldiers was victimized by one of their leaders. And if it was true, they should give her credit for that, acknowledge the mitigation in her case and let her go and let her get the treatment that she needs. They have done none of that.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Suzanne says that others, when she came back from Iraq and was abused again by another officer, others heard it. What does the investigation say about that?
KEITH SCHERER: Nothing. What it says is that they addressed this situation, admonished the soldier who made the lewd remarks, and that Suzanne was happy with what they did, which is true. The guy received a letter of admonishment. It was sternly phrased. It was an appropriate response against him. The part that’s a little odd is that they had her engage in these role-playing games, again making it seem as if it’s her fault, she didn’t do enough. And a letter of admonishment, which is what he received, is a very low-level — it’s a low-wattage punishment. It’s hardly even a slap on the wrist. They could have given this guy non-judicial punishment, they could have court-martialed him. You name it. Any number of things they could have done to him and these other folks. And they didn’t do it, because they didn’t want to do it.
And I believe that the reason — I have come to believe that the reason that they’re going after Suzanne so hard in this case is because she’s a whistleblower. She has exposed what happens in the clubhouse. And any women who are in the military or who have served in the military, who are in your listening audience, will know that once you make an allegation like this in the military, you become marked. It is not an amnesty situation. And that’s what’s happened to Suzanne. Not only has she become marked, but she’s the only person left to punish, and they’re going to make sure that she gets punished.
AMY GOODMAN: Suzanne Swift, I wanted to play for you an excerpt of a recent interview we did with the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, Susan Avila-Smith. She’s a military sexual trauma specialist and founder and director of Women Organizing Women, an advocacy group for survivors of rape in the military. So she’s not a reporter, but is the director of Women Organizing Women.
SUSAN AVILA-SMITH: Coming to terms with having my own PTSD has taken about a decade to learn to manage my symptoms, rather than my symptoms managing me. I’m lucky that I’m a highly functional person with PTSD, because I sought treatment very early on, after I was diagnosed. And as a result, my level of functioning is good, and that’s my hope for Suzanne, is that she gets out and she’s able to get the treatment that she needs so that she can deal with this. As far as my cancer goes, it’s a bump in the road. It’s kind of unfortunate, because I’m not able to help the number of women that need help, but I’m not looking at this as, you know, a life-threatening illness or something that’s going to be continuing to linger like my PTSD.
AMY GOODMAN: Susan Avila-Smith, a military sexual trauma specialist, director of Women Organizing Women. How important is it for you, Suzanne, to have support? Do you think you are suffering from PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder?
SUZANNE SWIFT: Oh, yes. And, you know, I don’t think it’s from being in combat. It’s from what other soldiers did to me. It didn’t come from the outside from the enemy. It comes from within the Army, within the people that you’re supposed to be able to trust and that are supposed to be taking care of you. I think that’s a big part of why it’s so traumatic.
AMY GOODMAN: When you were in Iraq, how many women were there where you were at the base?
SUZANNE SWIFT: In my platoon, we were on a very small camp, and we’re a satellite platoon. And there were, including myself, there were four women in my platoon.
AMY GOODMAN: How many men?
SUZANNE SWIFT: There were other women on the camp, but they were different nationalities, so we didn’t see much of them.
AMY GOODMAN: How many men?
SUZANNE SWIFT: There was my platoon, so probably about 26 in my platoon, and then there was a team of Special Forces. That’s like ten men. And then there’s probably about six or seven signal people. And they had men and women, but those just happened to be men.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring your mother, Sara Rich, into this conversation, who we have talked to several times before today, when you’re speaking out the first time. Sara, the investigation has been done. Your response?
SARA RICH: It’s been done by — it was done in three days, this investigation, is what they say. It was opened on July 11th and closed on July 14th. And they interviewed Suzanne for one hour, in which time they said to her, “You don’t need to go into detail. I don’t need to know what he said.” So if that’s their kind of investigation, I’ve never heard of an investigation that’s, you know, lasted that short of a time, that was that brief and so lacking in depth and true investigation.
KEITH SCHERER: Amy, if I could interject here for a moment.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
KEITH SCHERER: Your typical investigation should take 30 days. What the commander will do is, he’ll take somebody who he respects, who has the ability to be objective and has judgment and who’s aggressive and thorough, and he’ll put him on the case for 30 days. That’s standard. That’s reasonable. In this case, they pulled somebody off the line, put him on the job for a few days and sent him out to do the work that really should have been done by a qualified investigator.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what happens now?
KEITH SCHERER: Well, we’re waiting for the Army to take action. We’ve gotten indications that they intend to court-martial her. They’ve already said that non-judicial punishment is highly unlikely, and we know that they’re not going to let her go with an administrative discharge, which happens in the vast majority of AWOL and desertion cases. People who have been gone for far, far longer than Suzanne and who have absolutely no excuse and no mitigation, they are allowed to come back through the Army. They walk through the gates of one of the Army posts. It takes about two or three weeks. They are administratively processed out the door, no questions asked. In this case, we’ve been waiting around for months. We still don’t know exactly what they’re going to do with her, but we expect to be battling this for several more months, because they’re going to bring her to a court-martial.
AMY GOODMAN: Sara Rich, a number of congress members, you have contacted. Now you’re headed to Washington. Congressmember Pete DiFazio is involved. What has he called for?
SARA RICH: Well, I’ve been calling Pete and talking to his aide Frank since November of '04 when Suzanne — you know, she was repeatedly calling me from Iraq, crying, telling me everything that this man was doing to her. And I was frantic with worry and not knowing what to do. So they have been — Frank has been aware of what's going on with Suzanne since November of '04. So they kept doing congressional inquiries. And I kept saying, “That's not enough, that’s not enough.” So a group of Iraq Veterans Against the War in D.C. did a sit-in at Peter’s office in D.C. last week, and we demanded that they do a congressional investigation into why Suzanne has been held for so long, because her mental health is deteriorating, and Peter’s office agreed to do that.
So they have started — Suzanne had signed the permission slip, and they are going to start doing a congressional investigation into why they are treating Suzanne with such disrespect and the timeliness of this has just been abhorrent. I am going to Washington, D.C. and going to meet with Peter, with Congressman DiFazio on Thursday and talk about what Suzanne’s experience has been and what he can do to be the most effective to help her get a good resolution — you know, to resolve this so she has some dignity and respect, because she’s not being treated with dignity and respect by the Army right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Suzanne Swift, are you sorry you joined the military police, the Army?
SUZANNE SWIFT: You know, Amy, I think everything happens for a reason. And I think that being as public as it is, my case is definitely being watched by women in the military, especially women who may have military sexual trauma or have had similar things happen to them. And I think that if things go well, or at least not horribly, you’ll hear a lot more women speaking out. And, you know, I would hope never to have to do it again, but that makes it worth it, just to help put an end to this.
AMY GOODMAN: And do you see an end coming soon? You’ve been confined to base now, except for the times you’re allowed out, for a number of months.
SUZANNE SWIFT: You know, I try not to look too far ahead. They’ve been telling me, you know, it won’t be much longer for the last three months, so I try not to get my hopes up about that.
AMY GOODMAN: Advice to young women like yourself in the military or young women who are considering going into it?
SUZANNE SWIFT: For the women who are considering going into it, don’t. And for the women who are already in the military or in similar situations, write it down, report it, contact your congressman, be as loud as possible. And I know it’s scary, but don’t let them do it.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us. If people want to get in touch with you, do you have a website or an email address you want to share?
SUZANNE SWIFT: We do. My mom has a Yahoo, it’s email@example.com. And the website is suzanneswift.org.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all for being with us: Suzanne Swift, speaking out in this national broadcast for the first time; Keith Scherer, military defense attorney; and Sara Rich, the mother of Suzanne Swift. We will continue to follow your case.