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30 Jan, 2017 13:24

'Abhorrent' sexual abuse & hazing at German elite base admitted by military

'Abhorrent' sexual abuse & hazing at German elite base admitted by military

Recruits and service personnel have been sexually abused, humiliated and forced into violent rituals at an elite military base in southern Germany, according to a report first published by Der Spiegel daily and later confirmed by the German military.

“Sexual abuse and sadistic actions” were “common practice” during a medical training course named “Combat First Responder” which recruits from all military branches had to attend at the Pfullendorf military base in Baden-Wuertemberg, Der Spiegel reported citing an internal military investigation that was kept secret.

The investigation was triggered in October 2016 after a female officer addressed the German parliamentary commissioner for the army, Hans-Peter Bartels as well as the German Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen.

The female lieutenant complained that she had to go through various humiliating and degrading exercises and rituals during her medical training at the base. The recruits were forced to get naked in front of the fellow service members while other soldiers were filming them, she said at that time, according to Der Spiegel.

The soldiers attending the course also had to take part in “absolutely senseless and apparently sexually motivated medical exercises” that involved soldiers inserting roller bandages into their anuses. Both male and female recruits had to go through this. Such “drills” were also photographed, the officer added.

The officer’s complaint prompted an internal investigation into the matter that confirmed all the officer’s statements, Der Spiegel reports. The investigators also found that the violations at the base were not limited to degrading training exercises, but also included violent and humiliating rituals for new recruits.

Soldiers were tied to chairs for many hours and hosed down, according to the daily. After Volker Wieker, the Inspector General of the Federal Armed Forces, sent his special investigator to the base the number of discovered violations “rapidly increased.”

As a result, seven soldiers who served at the facility were immediately discharged from service without notice because of their involvement in the abuses. In addition, the regional Prosecutor’s Office in Hechlingen also opened a probe against the former servicemen on suspicion of infliction of serious bodily injuries, illegal deprivation of freedom, violence and abuse.

The base commander, Colonel Thomas Heinrich Schmidt, was transferred to another post along with two officers and two non-commissioned officers who were serving at the base, under order of the defense minister.

Army draws conclusions from Pfullendorf base incident – military

Following the publication in Der Spiegel, the German Army issued an official statement. It confirmed “a significant number of incidents that occurred at the Special Operations training center in Pfullendorf” and said that those incidents would be “taken seriously.”

It admitted that exercises conducted as part of the Combat First Responder course “were not in compliance with the standards of respect to human dignity and sexual self-determination” and were “shameful.” The statement also confirmed that soldiers at the base were involved in “admission rituals” that included various forms of abuse.

The Army stressed that those violations were committed by soldiers serving at the base while officers were not involved. Those involved in the abuse were discharged from service, the statement says, but it did not reveal the exact number of servicemen involved.

The Army would continue its investigation and take further disciplinary and organizational measures in relation to the incident, the statement said.

“The actions [of the personnel] at the Special Operations training center [in Pfullendorf] cannot be tolerated. It contradicts our values!” the Inspector of the Army, Lieutenant General Joerg Vollmer said in a statement, adding that those who committed the violations would “face the consequences.”

The German Defense Minister also condemned the abuse at the Pfullendorf base calling it “abhorrent” and “disgusting.” She also vowed to conduct a full investigation to bring all those responsible to justice.

Despite her condemnation, the minister came under criticism as lawmakers accused the ministry of covering up the incidents of abuse.

“The parliament was once again not timely informed [about the incidents], even though the facts were known [to the ministry] for some time,” Rainer Arnold, a lawmaker from the Social Democratic Party and a defense expert, told Stuttgarter Zeitung daily, who demanded a special session of the parliamentary Defense Committee.

The Berliner Zeitung reported that Committee members were informed about the incident by the Inspector General of the Federal Armed Forces only after an article on the issue was published by Der Spiegel.

On Monday, ministry spokesman Jens Flosdorff confirmed the suspension of seven soldiers involved in the abuse at the base, saying that the investigation actually focused on three separate abuse cases, some of which date back to 2014.

Flosdorff called the allegations “outrageous and repulsive, and certainly no advertisement” for the German armed forces, as reported by Reuters. He also said that lawmakers would be informed about the preliminary results of the ministry’s internal investigation later on Monday.

Reports of abuses at the base first emerged in 2015. A subsequent investigation did not reveal any violations and the probe was dropped.

The Pfullendorf base has long been regarded as an elite training center used for both soldiers’ and officers’ training.