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Interview with Sara Rich: Mother of Suzanne Swift, Army War Resister

By Fight Back! Editors

Sara Rich is an activist and a tireless advocate for her daughter, Army Specialist Suzanne Swift, who is awaiting a court-martial for refusing to return to Iraq under the command of a sergeant who raped her. Today Sara Rich travels around the U.S., speaking out against the war and military sexual violence. Fight Back! interviewed Sara Rich on Oct. 28.

Fight Back!: How is Suzanne? How is your daughter’s case going?

Sarah Rich: Not good. Suzanne is being court-martialed and her trial is set for Jan. 7. I think the military is trying to make an example of her. They have set up a system that does not work for victims of sexual violence in the military. The victim advocates that the military assigns are not adequately trained.

Women who speak out about their experiences are treated like trash and humiliated by their officers and fellow soldiers. One girl had to have bodyguards assigned to her because she was receiving death threats from other soldiers in her unit. I know of a girl in Germany who was abused and she tried to commit suicide. Eventually the Red Cross, who she had been in contact with, told her family to stop trying to advocate on her behalf; the organization was afraid of being charged for “destroying government property.” That’s what you are when you’re enlisted – government property.

Fight Back!: How did the government respond to your daughter’s case?

Sarah Rich: It took them about four months to decide what to do with Suzanne. The response we’ve received has been dismissive and nonexistent.

When Suzanne reported the abuse she had experienced at the hands of the sergeants she served under, the military conducted a three-day investigation. In this investigation neither of the major perpetrators were interviewed. Suzanne was interviewed for an hour. The investigators told her that they “weren't interested in any details.” The officer responsible for the investigation was not even a member of CID [military Criminal Investigation Command] – he was just a random colonel assigned to her case. When the colonel submitted his findings his superior rejected them, saying that there wasn’t enough information.

Three different sergeants had sexually harassed and abused Suzanne. The military investigation claimed that only the offenses committed by the third sergeant could be substantiated and said that Suzanne had failed to report the earlier abuses. This is untrue, and is even contradicted by the army’s own investigation, which documented reports which Suzanne made of her abuse while serving in Iraq.

The army gave Suzanne a psychological evaluation. They said that she had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, but claimed she didn’t have enough to be diagnosed with the condition. So, they decided to charge her with going AWOL when she refused to return to Iraq under the control of her abusers.

Sergeant Lester, one of the sergeants who harassed Suzanne, told the investigators that Suzanne was lazy, and that “he occasionally had to ‘micromanaged’ her.” The Equal Opportunity officer said that she was promiscuous and “had a reputation” among the soldiers. This is totally typical of the language sexual abusers use to talk about their victims. Never mind the major in her division – who said Suzanne was a good soldier who performed admirably in combat – or that her team leader that commended her honesty to the investigators. The military took the words of her abusers over those of higher-ranking officers who had served with her.

Despite all of the flaws in the way this investigation was put together, the military is still moving forward to prosecute its case. Honestly, they’re trying to break us down – emotionally and financially. They’re trying to beat us down, but it’s not going to happen.

Fight Back!: In your writing you don’t limit your criticism to the way sexual abuse is handled within the military – you are also often critical of the war itself. What are your thoughts on the American invasion and occupation of Iraq?

Sarah Rich: I have always opposed the war in Iraq. We’re not the world police. Our government needs to stop trying to control the rest of the world. Right now we’re seen as international terrorists because of what’s going on in Iraq. Millions of Americans want peace. A majority of Americans want peace, but the U.S. government is in the habit of demanding obedience instead of listening to the people who are supposed to be the source of its authority.

We need to bring our troops home now. We need to fund the Veterans Administration so that when they come home they’ll be take care of. We need to fund the schools and stop using our children as human sacrifices for oil. I have a 12-year-old son. If we don’t change things he could be drafted in six years.

Fight Back!: Would you encourage other active-duty personnel in the military to resist deployment to Iraq today?

Sarah Rich: Yes. I absolutely would. I support all war resisters 100%. We have more and more resisters in the military. There is a movement in the army now that is asking congress for redress and demanding to be sent home. There is no ‘noble cause’ in this war. People are being sacrificed for the sake of a few profiteers.

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