Reforms needed to fix Guard

Community Perspective

FAIRBANKS — The Office of Complex Investigations (OCI) report summary confirms what whistleblowers and victims had been reporting to Gov. Sean Parnell for years: The National Guard chain of command allowed sexual assaults to occur with impunity while commanders retaliated against victims and whistleblowers. The chain of command even violated the confidentiality of victims.

While we do not have the benefit of the findings from the full report, we do know that the Guard’s problems were deep, systemic and ran all the way up the chain of command.

Some have defended Gov. Parnell by saying he handled this as an attorney demanding substantial evidence and identification of all parties involved, but I strongly challenge that position. As a local government attorney, I know the proper way to handle any claim of sexual abuse or sexual harassment is to immediately begin the investigation and take all steps to protect the rights of the accused and the accuser. 

Cleaning up the Guard scandal requires accountability and reforms that protect victims’ confidentiality while ensuring that law enforcement can investigate and prosecute alleged crimes. When we talk about the victims, we are talking about Alaskans who have committed to serve our country and our state. As governor and commander in chief of the Alaska National Guard I will work to implement the following and facilitate swift reform within the Guard:

Establish penalties for those who violate victims’ confidentiality. Breaches of confidentiality should be punished to the fullest extent of the law — not covered up or ignored. When a rape occurs, the victim inherently loses her sense of security and trust amidst all of the other physical and emotional injuries that come with victimization. A breach of a rape victim’s confidentiality re-victimizes her by again robbing her of sense of security leading to further harm, fear and confusion. I will work with local law enforcement and the new Guard leadership to investigate and prosecute breaches of confidentiality of sexual assault victims.

We must establish a reporting structure outside the chain of command. I will work with the new leadership of the Guard, law enforcement, and other informed personnel to strategically plan and launch a third party reporting system. Guard members need a secure reporting system to ensure they are heard and protected when the chain of command is otherwise unresponsive. The OCI report confirmed that Guard members lack confidence in the reporting structure within the chain of command.

We must hold members of the chain of command accountable. Gov. Parnell needs to release the full OCI report (with victims’ and whistleblowers’ names redacted) to determine who in the chain of command was complicit in the sexual assault and fraud scandal. Everyone who was complicit needs to be removed from positions of authority. Until this happens, the culture and attitude of complacency toward sexual assault within the Guard will persist. As victims and whistleblowers have noted, Gen. Thomas Katkus’ resignation is necessary but insufficient to fix systemic command chain problems in the Guard. As governor, I will recognize the buck stops with me when it comes to holding the chain of command accountable.

We must forward all findings to the Anchorage Police Department and state troopers for prosecution as appropriate. Some crimes in the Guard have occurred recently enough that investigation and prosecution may still be possible. I will direct Guard investigators to send all cases being adjudicated through the Guard’s Board process to civil authorities from criminal investigation and prosecution.

Finally, we must appoint a special prosecutor to ensure accountability. As governor, I will instruct my attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor with full subpoena and investigative powers to ensure all corruption and enabling of sexual assault is rooted out of the National Guard. The problems identified in the OCI report run deep — how deep, we may never know. For that reason, I would encourage an authority independent of both the Guard and the state of Alaska to evaluate whether charges are necessary. 

Many of the reforms listed above have been recommended by whistleblowers, victims and by advocates for victims of sexual assault. As governor, I will work with these brave Alaskans who stood up to abuses and implement these reforms as quickly as possible.

Bill Walker is a lifelong Alaskan, local government attorney, husband of 37 years, father of four and grandfather of two. He is an independent candidate for governor.

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