Obama vows to stop military sex abuse

Pentagon leaders called ‘ashamed,’ ‘angry’ on failures

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Thursday the nation’s military leaders told him they are ashamed of their failure to end sexual abuse in the armed services. Obama pledged to leave no stone unturned in the effort to halt the abuse, which he said undermines the trust the military needs to be effective.

Obama also said he has asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey to to solve the problem.

‘‘They care about this, and they are angry about it,’’ Obama said at the White House, after he summoned Hagel, Dempsey, and other top defense leaders to discuss a problem thrust to the fore by recent misconduct cases and a Pentagon report showing that up to 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year.


‘‘I heard directly from all of them that they are ashamed by some of what’s happened,’’ Obama said.

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Earlier Thursday, the Army’s top officer acknowledged that his service is failing in its effort to stop sexual assaults.

General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, issued a public message to all soldiers in which he said the ‘‘bedrock of trust’’ between soldiers and their leaders has been violated by a recent string of misconduct cases.

He said the Army demonstrated competence and courage through 12 years of war.

‘‘Today, however, the Army is failing in its efforts to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment,’’ he wrote. ‘‘It is time we take on the fight against sexual assault and sexual harassment as our primary mission.’’


Obama also spoke about how sexual assault undermines the trust that men and women need to work as a team. He said he wants the military and others to explore every good idea to fix the problem.

‘‘I want to leave no stone unturned,’’ Obama said, adding that Hagel would consult with Congress as well as other militaries around the world.

Allegations of sexual assault in the military have triggered outrage from local commanders to Capitol Hill and the Oval Office. Yet there seem to be few clear solutions beyond improved training and possible adjustments in how the military prosecutes such crimes. Changing the culture of a change-resistant military that for years has tolerated sexism and sexist behavior is proving to be a challenging task.

‘‘We’re losing the confidence of the women who serve that we can solve this problem,’’ Dempsey said Wednesday.

‘‘That’s a crisis,’’ Dempsey said in remarks during a flight from Europe to Washington that were reported by the American Forces Press Service, which is the Pentagon’s internal news agency.


In a related development, the manager of the sexual harassment and assault response program at Fort Campbell, Ky., was arrested in a domestic dispute and relieved of his post, authorities said Thursday.

Lieutenant Colonel Darin Haas turned himself in to police in Clarksville, Tenn., on charges of violating an order of protection, and stalking, authorities said.