WASHINGTON (CN) - Top military officials have qualified immunity from the claims of 12 veterans who claim to have been raped during active duty, a federal judge ruled.
In a 2012 complaint, 11 women and one man said they were "raped, sexually assaulted, stalked ... and severely harassed," and then subjected to humiliation and retaliation after reporting those crimes.
Though sympathetic to their plight, U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson questioned whether judges have the power to give the plaintiffs their sought-after remedy.
"The issue before the court is not whether the culture described in the complaint exists, whether it is deplorable, or whether the plaintiffs suffered harm at the hands of the perpetrators of these criminal acts and those who sheltered them from justice or further victimized plaintiffs," she wrote. "The factual recitations, which the court must accept as true at this juncture, describe brutal and criminal assaults compounded by a degrading and humiliating institutional response, and they depict an unacceptable environment in need of repair from the top down. But the question posed by the defense motion is whether a court has the power to provide the particular sort of remedy sought here for the specific injustices alleged in the complaint. That is a purely legal question, and its answer is no."
Led by Ariana Klay, the 12 plaintiffs had accused top military officials of interfering with criminal investigations and presiding over a dysfunctional system that allows rapists to avoid incarceration.
"Defendants' repeated and unexcused failures to abide by the laws designed to reduce rape, sexual assault and harassment in the Navy and Marine Corps directly and seriously harmed plaintiffs and others who have reported rape and sexual assault and have challenged sexual harassment," the original complaint stated. "Rather than being respected and appreciated for reporting crimes and unprofessional conduct, plaintiffs and others who report are branded 'troublemakers,' endure egregious and blatant retaliation, and are often forced out of military service."
The lawsuit, one of many these last few years to detail widespread rape accusations in the military, named former Secretaries of Defense Leon Panetta, Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld as defendants, along with top officials from the Marine Corps and Navy.
It alleged constitutional violations mapped out under the Supreme Court decision,
Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Federal Agents, which created a cause against federal employees for constitutional violations.
Jackson concluded, however, that the military officials are entitled to qualified immunity because the allegations concern events that occurred during the plaintiffs' military service.
"As the Supreme Court has made clear: 'judges are not given the task of running the Army,'" Jackson wrote.
Though the plaintiffs had claimed that sexual assault cannot possibly be considered an "activity" incident to military service, Jackson focused on the fact that their injuries did occur over the course of that service.
The 25-page ruling shares Jackson's concerns over the troubling allegations.
"This decision is not meant to question in any way the seriousness of the alleged sexual assaults and retaliation, to minimize plaintiffs' suffering, or to express any doubts about the allegations that the culture and management of the military has allowed this kind of harassment and retaliation to persist," she wrote.
Ultimately, however, say over the run of the military belongs to Congress, according to the decision.
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