Military expert and retired Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Colonel Allan Douglas has expressed disappointment over claims of misconduct by an army officer accused of sexual harassment of his junior. Colonel Douglas told the Jamaica Observer that the values and standards of any military, including the JDF, were far more demanding than anything in civil life, but once broken, erodes the entire structure of the organisation.
Douglas said as far as he is concerned, all soldiers have the right to live and work in an environment free from harassment, unlawful discrimination and intimidation. Subsequently, he said that any unjustifiable behaviour that results in soldiers being unfairly treated is fundamentally contrary to military standards, discrimination and harassment and simply undermines trust and confidence.
“When you lose that, you've lost it entirely,” he said. “Sexual harassment can't be condoned, even in a military — no way. It's the end of everything. Trust, confidence, morale, the whole thing comes tumbling down.”
To further stress his point, Colonel Douglas said every officer is given the Queen's Commission — a charge outlining the discipline, trust and confidence expected of officers in the JDF, therefore the lieutenant's actions were “reprehensible”.
“The charge given to all of those with a commission says that Her Majesty is reposing trust in your loyalty courage and good conduct... Then it charges: You are therefore carefully and diligently to discharge your duty as such an officer in the rank as lieutenant, for argument's sake, and may from time to time hereafter be promoted and appointed, and in such manner and on such occasion, as to exercise and well disciplined in duties, such officers and soldiers may be placed under your orders from time to time and use your best endeavours to keep them in good order and discipline. It goes on to say I do hereby command all officers and soldiers to obey you as their superior officer and you to follow such orders and directions as from time to time you shall receive from me or any one of your superior officers in pursuance of the trust hereby reposing you. That's a key charge for all officers,” Col Douglas said.
The matter, which was highlighted in last week's edition of the Sunday Observer, outlined the sexual misconduct of a JDF lieutenant with his subordinate. The subordinate, a woman private, was charged and sent to military prison for 14 days. However, reports are that the lieutenant's role in the matter has not led to any punishment so far, although he has been charged.
The report has led to public outcry with the Opposition calling for a swift investigation and appropriate action to be taken in the matter. The Opposition also called on the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) to launch an investigation, but INDECOM said it was outside its remit.
Moreover, Col Douglas referenced the Defence Act and explained that Section 75, which outlined two of the private's charges, covers just about anything that is inappropriate. However, he said the seriousness with which misconduct will be regarded is dependent on the individual circumstances that prevail at that time and its potential for adversely affecting operational effectiveness.
Nevertheless, Douglas explained that misconduct involving abuse of position trust or rank or taking advantage of an individual will be viewed as being particularly serious and the matter in the public fore, in that context, is “very, very serious”.
Regarding the JDF's credibility in dealing with the situation, Col Douglas said that in the information age it is important that the leaders in the JDF understand that they have to be watching out and dealing with these things immediately as there is no longer a time lapse to correct misconduct.
“It happens today and it's all over the place, so they have to maintain those standards,” he said.
As it pertains to the officer, Colonel Douglas said he has no doubt he will be dealt with appropriately, but explained that the process is indeed different and might be lengthier.
“There is a different process to the officer being dealt with because he has to be dealt with either by appropriate superior authority, namely the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), or by court martial if he is charged. But, when you charge one officer, in effect you are dragging the entire officer corp to trial. You have mud all over the face of the officer corp. Normally an enquiry or investigation into this individual's conduct goes before the CDS on a disciplinary interview. Now coming out of that disciplinary interview, the CDS may very well say to the Defence Board that he is calling on the officer to resign his commission,” Douglas explained.
He added: “People are expecting a court martial, but if you have the officer on trial, you have indeed the entire officer corp on trial with the soldiers saying, 'see it deh, see it deh they are suppose to be perfect'. So it is discreetly managed and the soldiers get the message. That officer was there and he is no longer there and they know what has happened. But how you deal with the disciplinary procedures are different for soldiers as opposed to officers.”
Douglas also used the opportunity to commended the JDF on its growth and increased recruitment of women, but also urged the leaders to ensure trust and public confidence in the institution, in this regard, is not undermined.
“The JDF has grown tremendously since I left in 2002 and it has more females in combat roles, whereas when I was there. While there, there was the women's unit that was primarily clerical. Now they are in combat in different areas of the force. Any military commander that condones this form of sexual misconduct is in effect destroying himself. If he does it to say he is going to sweep it under the carpet because he is an officer — nonsense. Any misconduct of an officer, even borrowing money from a soldier, the matter goes right up to the Defence Board and he is out. The standard must be maintained,” Col Douglas said.