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AMERICAN MORNING

Air Force Scandal

Aired June 25, 2003 - 09:17   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: There is a new class of cadets arriving this week at the Air Force Academy. Basic training will less punishing than usual. That so that the freshman can better observe information about military law, sexual assault and gender sensitivity. It's the first class to enter the academy since the sex abuse scandal broke in February. An Air Force report issued last week said -- quote -- "No systematic acceptance of abuse at the academy. But several other investigations are still under way. John Ferrugia, a reporter at KMGH, has been working on the story, and has broken it, and is joining us this morning from Denver.
John, good morning.

Let's start with this difference in basic training. It's going to be less brutal. They're trying to create a different kind of environment. Is this just a band-aid, or is this a sign of changes that have come to the academy?

JOHN FERRUGIA, KMGH INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Well, Daryn, I don't know that physically, it's going to be less brutal, it's going to be tough as always. I think the difference is that there's going to be less in-your-face when they first get there, and I think there's going to be an emphasis on respecting, respecting one another, respecting the upper classmen. Seniors now will have responsibility for freshmen rather than the sophomores and juniors. That, they hope, will bring a little level of maturity there, and create less problems.

Also, the women will be trained separately for a period of time, and as you mentioned, on issues of sexual assault, on issues of reporting, et cetera. The women will maybe bond a little closer together as a unit before they go into the broader unit. So I think the emphasis now is on respect, respecting one another and really the emphasis for the new general there, who is the acting superintendent and commandant of cadets, General John Wyday (ph), it's on respect, and that's what they're trying to build there.

KAGAN: Let me and you about this Air Force statement. We read it as I introduced you. But to bring it back, no systemic acceptance of sexual assault and no avoidance of responsibility when female cadets reported attacks.

FERRUGIA: Yes, you have to understand in this case that this is an Air Force internal report by this working group headed by basically the Air Force's top lawyer. The interesting thing about this which you haven't heard much about, is that the victims, hardly any of the victims, talked to this organization. The reason they didn't is because they don't trust the Air Force. And so when you're talking about systemic acceptance, the other part of that, which they didn't dwell on, was the climate of fear, fear of reprisal. You're talking about fear of punishment. They talked about this in some detail, but never brought it into the report in any substantive way. I think the think about this is they looked at the 63 cases over 10 years of people who did report, and kind of dissected those, and then turned around on the other side and said, well, there is this climate of fear, and there is probably a lot of people who didn't report them, but we don't know about that.

KAGAN: Meanwhile, there are three other investigations going on. Do you expect other conclusions to come from those?

FERRUGIA: Yes, I do. Indeed, this working group was not to assign any blame whatsoever. You've got right now an Air Force inspector general's investigation which is going on, which is looking at procedures, et cetera, but how did the command fail? You've got the Department of Defense, DOD, inspector general once removed, which reports to the secretary of defense. It will be looking at much broader issues in terms of maybe who's responsible, what kind of command failures there were, but also other academies. Do some of these problems exist at other academies? Of course the civilian review, oversight committee which is just getting under way, put together by Congress appointed by the secretary of defense. Its mandate to look at what failures there are, and there may be some names coming out of this in terms of command, who didn't do their job correctly. That's one of the big sticking points with Congress, and especially the Senate Armed Services Committee. The issue was, wait a minute, this isn't an act of God, this culture just didn't get there surreptitiously; there was a command structure here that allowed this culture to be in place.

KAGAN: And it was going on a number of years. John Ferrugia, KMGH, thanks. I know you'll be tracking it from Denver. We'll have you back.

FERRUGIA: Thank you.

KAGAN: Thank you.

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