Pentagon Investigators Question Admirals, Junior Pilots in Tailhook Probe
SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Defense Department investigators are questioning Pacific Fleet admirals as well as junior Navy pilots in their probe of the Tailhook sex scandal, a newspaper reported today.
More than a dozen investigators from the Pentagon inspector general’s office on Monday also began questioning commanding officers of aviation squadrons at Miramar Naval Air Station and other Navy bases, The San Diego Union-Tribune said.
At least 26 women - half of them Navy officers - have said they were abused last September at a convention in Las Vegas of the Tailhook Association, a naval aviation group. They said they were fondled and disrobed while being pushed down a gantlet of drunken aviators in a hotel hallway.
The Pentagon took over the Tailhook investigation last month after Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett said the Navy’s credibility for investigating itself had been seriously undermined.
Garrett subsequently resigned amid increasing criticism from Congress that the Navy wasn’t taking the issue seriously enough and seriously mishandled its own investigation.
The newspaper report cited unidentified officials close to the probe, and did not specify which other bases, besides Miramar, were being visited by up to 20 investigators.
The use of that many investigators is significant because it shows the Pentagon inspector general is conducting an independent probe and not just reviewing how the Navy handled its own eight-month investigation, the newspaper quoted officials as saying.
A key part of the new Pentagon investigation focuses on the Navy’s aviation leadership who attended the convention, the Union-Tribune reported.
Those scheduled to be questioned this week include Adm. Robert Kelly, commander of the Pacific Fleet; Vice Adm. Edwin Kohn, commander of naval air forces in the Pacific; and Rear Adm. Luther Schriefer, head of the San Diego Naval Base, the newspaper said.
Among the issues investigators are looking into is whether admirals who attended the convention encouraged and allowed the lewd atmosphere that prevailed in hospitality suites off the hallway where the molestations allegedly occurred, the Union-Tribune said.
The Navy interviewed about 1,500 officers before the Pentagon inspector general’s probe began, but none of the nearly 40 admirals who reportedly attended the meeting were questioned. The service since has said that about 70 officers could face disciplinary action.
The San Diego-based Tailhook Association, so named for the cable that snags aircraft as they land on carriers, is comprised of retired and active duty Navy and Marine Corps aviators.