Disturbing Songbooks Surface in New Military Sexual Assault Suit

Unofficial Air Force songbook surfaces in military sexual assault case.

ByAlexander Mallin
March 31, 2015, 4:26 PM
PHOTO: Four former military members are involved in a lawsuit that alleges sexual assault within the military.
Four former military members are involved in a lawsuit that alleges sexual assault within the military.
Getty Images

— -- Susan Burke isn't going to war with the U.S. military, she just wants it to have its day in court.

The Baltimore attorney has become the face of the movement to reform how the military handles sexual assault cases, and on Tuesday she announced a new federal lawsuit aimed at combatting the problem.

At issue for Burke and the four former military members involved in the suit is that sexual assault allegations within the military are handled entirely within the command structure.

Burke and other like-minded reform advocates believe the judicial process should be handled outside units by a process independent of the chain of command.

This latest suit filed in the Eastern District Court of Virginia alleges instances of retaliation, sexual harassment and abuse in various levels of command that Burke said ought to lead to complete removal of the members from the judicial process.

In one particular case, former Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Smith brought forward an unofficial Air Force songbook that contained dozens of sexist and violent lyrics. She said she had filed an administrative complaint over the book in 2012.

But Smith said the general assigned to address her complaint sang the sexist songs with the airmen regularly.

"These are not judges or lawyers, these are actual battlefield commanders," Burke said. "They have extraordinary judicial powers despite having no legal training and in many instances having the type of personality that openly sings these incredibly sexist songs in front of their soldiers and airmen."

The complaint alleges some of the most disturbing content is found in the songbooks of the 55th, 77th, and 79th fighter squadrons of the Air Force.

Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Brooke Brzozowske didn't comment on the lawsuit itself to ABC News, but noted that the book was from 2012, prior to the Air Force initiating a health and welfare inspections program where such materials would have been confiscated.

In the news conference though, retired Air Force Col. Don Christensen alleged the songbooks were still used by airmen to this very day.

Brzozowske said she didn't know the current status of the books, but said the Air Force had contacted the Inspectors General today to reach out to make sure the books were not still in use.

While Congress has sought to address sexual assault in the military in recent years after increased media attention and disturbing revelations in the documentary "The Invisible War," in which Burke was a central figure, Smith told ABC News that the fight has turned political.

"They keep dancing around the issue, when the real remedy is just to take it out of the chain of command," Smith said. "I was assaulted, but I couldn't count on my reporting it to go anywhere because of who I knew was in charge."

Burke said that while Congress has been able to enact "incremental steps" to fix the inner workings of the military justice system, that is like "building a house on a weak foundation."

The songbook is one of several allegations in the 44 pages provided to reporters Tuesday, but Burke said the biggest hurdle will be getting the federal court to take up the case.

To date, the Department of Defense has successfully fought off Burke every time she has filed suit on this issue, citing the need for military discipline. But Burke said if the federal court agrees to take up the case this time, she expects it would go to a hearing in the next six months.

"You have the laws that give people the rights but you have no enforcement mechanism, and a right without an enforcement mechanism is an empty right," Burke said.

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