RICHMOND, VA. — A federal appeals court refused Tuesday to revive a lawsuit against two former defense secretaries by 28 military members and veterans who said they were victims of sexual assault.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a lower court’s December 2011 ruling dismissing the case. The lawsuit alleged that former defense secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates fostered a culture that allowed rapists to thrive and punished victims for filing complaints against their attackers.
The appeals court acknowledged the severity of the allegations and stressed that it was not implying that the conduct described in the complaint was acceptable. However, the panel agreed with U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady that the judiciary should not intervene in matters involving military discipline.
In one incident cited in the lawsuit, an Army Reservist said two male colleagues raped her in Iraq and videotaped the attack. She complained to authorities but says charges weren’t filed because the commander did not think she acted like a rape victim. In another incident, an Army sergeant alleged that after being raped by a colleague she sought counsel from a military chaplain who told her it must have been God’s will.
The Richmond-based appeals court is the first federal appeals court to rule on the issue, but the panel noted that its decision is consistent with a ruling in February by a federal judge in Washington, D.C., on a nearly identical lawsuit filed against then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.