Call me anytime, Congress!
Some of the more exasperating exchanges I had during the DIA case went something along the lines of:
Witness X: “Ryan, A, B and C happened to me and that’s wrong and there should be accountability!”
Me: “Ok, write that down and send it to me.”
Witness X: “Yeah, uh…I don’t want to write it down…they’ll find me and punish me, but here’s my contact info, Congress can contact me and I can corroborate everything you’re bringing up.”
When I authored my first report to Congress about toxicity within DIA, it was an aggregation of over 30 witness statements. Can you imagine if those 30 were all like Witness X above? I think it would have played out something like this hypothetical email:
“Dear Congressperson X,
Hi, I’m Ryan Sweazey. You don’t know me from Adam, but there is a lot of shit going on in DIA. Of course, I have no written proof of any of that, but here’s a list of 30 randos you don’t know that you can call and they’ll back my story up.
“Dear United States Congress, I’m some raving lunatic and/or some clown who can’t be bothered to do any real work, so you do it for me.
P.S. – When does the investigation start?”
Is the absurdity of the approach now clear? (as well as my quizzicality with all the people who were so “egregiously wronged” but yet couldn’t be bothered to spend an hour writing a statement?). You see, our system has a thing called “burden of proof.” It’s a good thing. It prevents unfounded accusations from holding any merit and/or having any repercussions (except in DIA where the modus operandi was to spin any and all information to fit the narrative that best suited whoever was spinning it). But in the real world, outside of the “Bolling mothership”, the accuser has to prove an accusation. Leaving your phone number and email address is falling woefully short of that bar. The result was that one of the biggest hurdles I faced was that people were under the erroneous perception that just because they were a victim they were relieved of that burden of proof. That’s simply not the case. Now, the unfortunate negative-force-multiplier in this is that as a victim of reprisal, well, remember YOYO? The victim in a reprisal, and this is what is truly “unique,” is a victim twice-over: the first victimization is from the actual act, and the second is from the arduous path they have to navigate (and without representation!) on their own to be recompensed.
When I was an Inspector General, I once had a very contentious case about a highly toxic senior enlisted leader within one particular unit. A lot of people filed complaints that he was abusive so, after a cursory investigation, we took the allegations to the commander for action. The commander, being fairly weak, essentially punted it and didn’t really do much about it. Of course, the subject got wind of the complaint and subsequently held an “all call“ with all the enlisted members of the unit. According to people who were there, he marched in and triumphantly clamored “nobody’s gonna snipe me from the bushes!” Can’t think of a more textbook example of restriction (as defined in Title 10) than that. Of course, nothing happened to the guy and everybody continued to live under his oppressive thumb. (Footnote: in an incredible coincidence, this eerily similar event would happen on the heels of the WSJ article publication when the DAS Director allegedly stood up in front of attachés-in-training and proclaimed “there’s no toxicity here!” Why attachés-in-training? I leave that for you to draw your own conclusions.)
I recount this story because of this misconception we seem to have nowadays that when we are a victim, we can be a “faceless” accuser. A lot of people I dealt with in the DIA case felt that they could air their grievances without putting their name on something. I’m not sure where this mentality comes from… Over the past decade in the military, we had increasing attention on sexual assault and sexual harassment issues. During that time, there have been a number of instruments put into place which help protect the identity of the victim. I think that this, in part, contributes to the misconception that people, in any instance of being wronged, can just fire off an accusation “from the bushes” and slip away into the night. That’s not how our system works. And again, rightfully so. This was difficult for me to convey when I was working with would-be witnesses for the congressional report – everybody told me how much they were wronged and how much they wanted perpetrators to be held accountable, but when I said “OK, I need you to write that down and put your name to it,” there was teeth gnashing and then 5 out of 10 never submitted anything…to my knowledge, our Congress has yet to call them either.