By Susan Palmer, The Register-Guard, November 28, 2006
A Fort Lewis soldier who went AWOL to avoid a second tour of duty in Iraq and charged that she was sexually harassed by supervisors will be tried in January, after almost two months of pre-trial negotiations.

Eugene resident Suzanne Swift, a military police specialist, is scheduled for a special court-martial on Jan. 8, after negotiations that might have led to a lesser punishment or early release from the military broke down, according to Swift’s mother and her lawyer.

Fort Lewis officials announced Oct. 4 that Swift, who is charged with failing to deploy and being absent without leave, would be referred for a special court-martial, but no trial date was set at that time.

A special court-martial, with maximum punishment of confinement for a year, is less severe than a general court-martial, which handles the most serious offenses, but tougher than a summary court martial, where maximum punishment is 30 days confinement.

What followed the Oct. 4 announcement, said Sara Rich, Swift’s mother, and Keith Scherer, her attorney, was communication with prosecutors about ways to avoid the court-martial, which is a public process open to the media.

“We had been told, back in October, that the general (Lt. Gen. James Dubi) was very open-minded about how to resolve this case,” Scherer said.

Scherer said prosecutors invited him to submit a proposal for a resignation in lieu of court-martial, but that the two proposals he submitted were rejected.

At one point, Scherer and Rich say, the military proposed a deal stipulating that Swift sign a statement saying she had not been sexually assaulted in Iraq in exchange for a summary court-martial. Swift refused, her mother said.

Fort Lewis officials declined to comment on any pre-trial negotiations, but they said there has never been a request that Swift sign such a statement, Fort Lewis spokesman Joe Piek said.

Swift served with the 66th Military Police Co. and was in Iraq from February 2004 to February 2005. But just days before her new unit, the 54th Military Police Co., was to deploy in January 2006, Swift decided not to go back. She remained in Oregon until she was arrested by Eugene police at her mother’s home June 11.

Swift has said she was sexually harassed by her platoon leader in Iraq, coerced into a sexual relationship by her squad leader during her first deployment, and that a third sergeant made sexually suggestive comments to her after she returned to the United States. She said she couldn’t face the thought of further harassment and went AWOL instead.

An investigation into her allegations completed last summer supported the stateside incident, noting that it had been properly probed and the sergeant admonished and transferred to a different unit. The investigator failed to find witnesses who could back up Swift’s allegations.

But the report did find people in her unit who believed Swift, and at least one person who confirmed that some male soldiers continuously made sexually suggestive comments. The investigator wrote that he found Swift’s emotional testimony convincing.

The Register-Guard obtained a copy of the report through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Swift’s case, which has been widely reported in the national media, may become an international story as well. On Saturday, a team of broadcast journalists from Al Jazeera spent the day in Eugene with Rich and Swift. The Middle East TV channel based in Doha, Qatar, recently launched an international English-language ver- sion.

The journalists declined to be interviewed about their interest in the case, but they told Rich her daughter’s story would air on “Everywoman,” a news magazine show.