February 21, 2011

Experts Question Troubling Aspects Of AP Story About Anti-Gay Commander

SANTA BARBARA, CA –  Experts are raising questions about a recent Associated Press story that characterizes the Navy’s censuring of a commander who engaged in anti-gay hazing as an admission of error in accusing him of wrongdoing in the first place.  According to AP’s story last week, “The Navy has admitted that it was wrong when it accused dog handler Michael Toussaint of vicious hazing that singled out a gay sailor under his command at kennels in Bahrain.”

But according to Aaron Belkin, AP’s interpretation of the case raises questions.  “When someone who is on a fast track to promotion is forced to retire, when that person receives a letter of censure for hazing, and when the Assistant Secretary of the Navy says that the person does not meet the Navy’s standards of leadership, that is not a slap on the wrist, and that is not an acknowledgment that the Navy should not have accused him of misconduct,” said Belkin, who is director of the Palm Center.  He added, “AP has an excellent history of reviewing DADT-related issues with distinction, but this report seems out of step.”

Joseph Rocha, the gay ex-sailor who was abused over a period of 28 months, published a response to AP in the Huffington Post in which he says that its story contains a number of factual errors.  Belkin added that, “I have worked with Joseph Rocha for more than a year, and I have read many of the written documents in the case.  I don’t see how anyone could trivialize the abuse that took place in his unit.  The evidence shows that this was not routine hazing, and that the Navy does not see it as routine hazing.”  Rocha’s response can be seen here: