General: No jail time for pregnant soldiers (Backgrounder)

  • Thursday, December 24, 2009 12:01am
  • News

Peninsula Daily News News Services

EDITOR’S NOTE — The North Olympic Peninsula has a large number of active and retired military personnel, and we got telephone calls asking for more details on this story, which we published as a brief on Wednesday in the print edition of the Peninsula Daily News. Here is a longer story.

BAGHDAD — A U.S. general in Iraq who listed pregnancy as a reason for court-martialing soldiers now says he would never actually seek to jail someone over the offense, but wanted to underline the seriousness of the issue.

Last month, Army Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo issued an order that allow soldiers who become pregnant and their sexual partners to be court-martialed.

But on Tuesday, Cucolo told reporters that he would use only lesser, nonjudicial punishments to enforce the order.

Courts-martial can lead to loss of all benefits and jail time.

“I see absolutely no circumstance where I would punish a female soldier by court-martial for a violation . . . none,” Cucolo said.

Cucolo, who commands 22,000 soldiers in northern Iraq, including 1,682 females, said that seven soldiers, four of them women, have been punished under his order, which was issued in early November.

Those punishments mostly involved letters of reprimand.

Cucolo’s order lists about 20 activities punishable by court-martial, including entering a mosque without orders, drinking alcohol or using illicit drugs, photographing detainees or selling a weapon.

Troops also are prohibited from “sexual contact of any kind” with Iraqi nationals.

And they cannot spend the night with a member of the opposite sex, unless married or expressly permitted to do so.

Critics complain

It was the prohibition on pregnancy that caused controversy, with critics saying it discriminated against women and could lead to hasty abortions.

Some legal experts and soldiers, however, said it seemed a reasonable way to prevent a depletion of the ranks.

Typically, troops who become pregnant in a combat theater are sent home.

“I’ve got a mission to do, I’m given a finite number of soldiers with which to do it, and I need every one of them,” Cucolo told reporters.

Cucolo is believed to be the first general to make the pregnancy an offense that could be dealt with by court-martial — for both the man and the woman, including married couples who are deployed together.

The ruling only applies to troops under his command.

He said women who are raped would not be subject to this order.

The Pentagon itself put out a news story this week, explaining the policy and the general’s decision to avoid court martial for pregnancy.

Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale Law School, said General Cucolo probably never intended to court-martial a pregnant soldier and just wanted the threat to discourage pregnancies.

“What he’s reacting to is the extraordinary difficulty of filling vacancies in a war zone,” Fidell said.

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