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Navy petty officer to face punishment in hazing

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The former leader of a bomb-sniffing dog unit in Bahrain will be removed from his current position and forced to retire after the Navy reviewed years-old allegations of hazing and sexual harassment against a gay sailor and others.

The Navy announced Wednesday that Chief Petty Officer Michael Toussaint also would receive a letter of censure and be subject to a retirement pay-grade determination, which could significantly affect his retirement pay.

The move came after the Navy decided last month to review its investigation of more than 90 hazing incidents that took place between 2004 and 2006 in the Military Working Dog Division at Naval Security Force, Bahrain.

One of the victims of the hazing, Joseph Rocha, said he decided to leave the Navy in 2007 by telling his commander he was gay, in violation of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Rocha said he was tied to a chair and left in a dog kennel, hosed down while in uniform and forced to simulate oral sex on another sailor. He said he first came under suspicion for not sleeping with prostitutes when other men in the unit did. A Veterans Affairs doctor has diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder from the constant hazing.

The case got the attention of U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., a retired three-star admiral, who wrote a letter to Navy Secretary Raymond Mabus asking for an explanation why Toussaint was later promoted to senior chief.

Rocha, who is now a student at the University of San Diego, said his only regret was that Toussaint would not be court-martialed, but he said the actions would send a message that "this kind of leadership is not acceptable in our military."

"I think it's a phenomenal step in the right direction," Rocha said. "I think that it will have lasting implications, for sure, especially as we approach a vote on don't ask, don't tell."

Toussaint, who has been deployed, has been reassigned to Naval Special Warfare Group 2 in Norfolk, Va., where he will perform administrative duties and will not be in a position of leadership. Commander Greg Giesen, a Navy spokesman, said Toussaint has declined all interview requests.

The Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Gary Roughead, also has directed the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to conduct additional interviews with Navy personnel who were in Bahrain.

After reviewing the Navy's original investigation, Roughead "found that the incidents were not in keeping with Navy values and standards and violated the Navy's long-standing prohibition against hazing," said Cmdr. Elissa Smith, a Navy spokeswoman.

After the Navy's investigation was completed in 2007, Sestak said, four people were accused of wrongdoing, including Toussaint, and their commanding officers were told to take action.

No action was taken against two of the people, Sestak said. In Toussaint's case and another, commanders only took administrative action, not judicial action.

"In the military, we often delegate responsibility, but can never delegate accountability. The astonishing absence of accountability in this case throughout the chain of command was inexcusable," Sestak said.

The congressman also referred to Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Valdivia, who took Toussaint's place leading the unit and committed suicide as the investigation was under way.

Rocha said Valdivia was trying to leave the Navy when she was told her leave was canceled and she would be removed from her position. The reasons for her decision to kill herself aren't known, but she wrote on her MySpace page before her death that she was tired of taking blame for others' actions.

Sestak linked her death to the abuses.

"As a result of the criminal abuse committed in the Bahrain dog unit, a life has been lost and irreparable harm done to sailors involved," he said.

Opponents of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy have cited the case as an example of why it should be ended. Rocha couldn't report the abuse because that could have revealed his sexual orientation. Others in the unit repeatedly asked Rocha if he was gay — a violation of the "don't ask" provision — because he would not sleep with visiting prostitutes.

Aaron Belkin, who studies the "don't ask, don't tell" policy as director of the Palm Center at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said the Navy was sending an important message.

"I just think it's really important that this shows the Navy is not going to tolerate anti-gay abuse and how the reaction is a professional one and it signals the new day that's coming on gays in the military," Belkin said.

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