First female captive since Pentagon altered rule
By Joyce Howard Price
WASHINGTON: One of the five US soldiers captured by Iraqi forces and questioned on Iraqi television is the first female POW since the Clinton administration’s military leaders repealed a rule barring servicewomen from positions with a high risk of encountering enemy fire or capture.
In 1994, the Pentagon, under Defence Secretary Les Aspin, discarded the “Risk Rule” and authorized women to serve in any post other than in frontline infantry, special-operations forces, or armor or artillery units. The Pentagon was swayed by feminists, said Elaine Donnelly, president of the Military Readiness Center, an independent public policy organization that specializes in military personnel issues.
“It’s bad when a man is captured. But if a woman is captured, she doesn’t have the same chance [to defend herself] that a man does,” said Mrs. Donnelly.
Both Mrs. Donnelly and retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis said when they learned of the woman’s capture, they thought about a female POW from the 1991 Persian Gulf war who was sexually assaulted by Iraqis.
Col. Maginnis, a Fox News analyst, said no one should be surprised if a female POW is sexually assaulted. “You must consider that women in every society are preyed upon if they are overtaken. ... Now that women are closer to the front lines, they are more subject to becoming captives and being manipulated,” he said.
Published reports say women are allowed to hold 52 percent of active-duty positions in the Marines, about a twofold increase since the rule change, while women in the Army can hold 70 percent of such positions. Women in the Air Force and Navy can perform in 99 percent of active-duty positions, about a 30 percent increase since 1993.
A recent study from the think tank RAND noted that the services limit the number of women they recruit for certain occupations. A previous study said about 10 percent of military women favor combat roles for females.
Iraqi footage of the POWs, replayed on the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network, also shows the bodies of at least four other soldiers, some of whom appear to have been shot through the head.
US officials last night said 12 soldiers were unaccounted for but did not release the names of the five POWs who wire service reports said were from the Army’s 507th Maintenance unit out of Fort Bliss, Texas. A 6 p.m. press conference at Fort Bliss was canceled last night.
Col. Maginnis said people in both maintenance and transportation units are vulnerable to capture. But he said those in support units do not receive the same training in escape and survival as other soldiers. There simply is not enough time, he said.
Fox News said yesterday that it was told that personnel in the 507th Maintenance unit received basic combat training.
“We clearly need to reconsider the decision made in the early 1990s for the good of the country and the good of women,” said Col. Maginnis.
Prior to the Risk Rule change, servicewomen were also barred from even support roles for combat troops, said Mrs. Donnelly, who suspected that a woman would be among the captives when she heard they were from the Army’s 507th.
Mrs. Donnelly said it bothers her that Maj. Rhonda Cornum, the flight surgeon for the Army’s 2-229th Attack Helicopter Battalion who was captured by Iraqis 12 years ago, didn’t tell the public about her sexual abuse for four years.
“She was a staunch advocate of women in combat, and she withheld that information. ... If the world had known what happened to her, it might have changed the debate,” said Mrs. Donnelly.
A second woman captured and later released in the first Gulf war has not said whether she was sexually assaulted, Mrs. Donnelly said. —TWT