Suzanne Swift joined the military during her junior year of high school as a way to pay for college. Despite what she was told by her recruiters, she was sent to Iraq. While stationed there, Swift endured command rape and harassment at the hands of her fellow soldiers. Swift continued to experience sexual harassment once she returned to the U.S., and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Swiftís case is not unique Ė over 70% of women in the military report sexual harassment at some point in their careers.
When Swift was told she was going back to Iraq, she went AWOL. She was court-martialed in December 2006, found guilty of all charges, stripped of her rank, and sentenced to 30 days in jail. Her attackers went free. Justiceís Melissa Sanders interviewed Swiftís mother, Sara Rich, a leading antiwar activist, to find out more about her case and her ongoing struggle with the military.
Now that the trial is over, has Suzanne been allowed to come home?
Oh no! They just wonít let her go. Sheís in the military until January 2009. Theyíre sending her to Fort Irwin, which is in California between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and it has the highest rate of suicide of all the bases in the United States.
Do you think that the military responded so harshly to her in order to treat her as an example to other female soldiers?
Yes, exactly! I made noise, and I was not going to shut up. We know that it was worse because of me speaking out.
What do you think it is about being in the military thatís resulting in so much sexualized violence against female soldiers?
Weíre teaching guys about 18 to kill, and that killingís ok, before they are even allowed to legally drink. If you do that, I mean, whoís going to tell them that raping isnít ok?
Can you talk about your views on the Iraq war more generally?
Yeah, I am definitely pro-peace. I want us to bring our troops home. Thereís no question there for me.
What is your advice to young women who are thinking about joining the military?
Something I think that all people should know is that military recruiters lie and will do anything to get you to sign that paper. Theyíll promise you the world and then, the minute that you sign, you have no rights. Your civil rights and your human rights are basically gone. And I think that people donít understand that. I didnít understand that military recruiters would lie! I thought that they were soldiers and full of integrity. When the recruiters told my daughter to sign up for five years and she wouldnít get sent to Iraq, thatís what I thought was going to happen.
And itís not just them. Still, to this day, you hear people talking about 9/11 and weapons of mass destruction. I mean, are you kidding me? You obviously are not listening! Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and had nothing to do with 9/11! People donít understand that we are misusing our military.
I am not anti-military, Iím anti-abuse of our military, and right now we are ravaging our troops and not taking care of them. I think that people donít understand that our troops are being devastated and decimated. Itís not just the death, itís also the PTSD and the loss of limb. We are treating them as if they are disposable.
What do you suggest that antiwar activists do to help support the troops that are in Iraq right now?
Right now, we need to be camping out in our senator and congressmenís offices and telling them to bring our troops home right now. We just need to barrage them until they get it, because right now all of our congressmen and senators are culpable for the deaths of our soldiers and the deaths of the Iraqis.