WASHINGTON, D.C. — An American commander in Iraq has backed down on a controversial stance he took last month that threatened court-martial for soldiers who became pregnant or who got someone pregnant.
Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo, who commands US forces in the northern sector of Iraq, issued a general order last month in which he stated that getting someone pregnant or becoming pregnant as a way to get out of a deployment could be punishable under the military court system, the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, to include court-martial.
But after an angry response from women’s rights groups and others, Cucolo on Tuesday appeared to retreat from that stance. While he retains the authority to court-martial a soldier under those circumstances, he said, the punishment would be unlikely to go that far.
“I do not ever see myself putting a soldier in jail for this,” Cucolo said in a conference call with reporters. He noted that he’d had four cases of pregnancy in a war zone so far, and in each case the soldier received a letter of reprimand and nothing more.
Usual punishment: exit war zone
Typically, female soldiers who become pregnant in a war zone are sent back to their home stations but not punished. While commanders discourage soldiers from having sex in a war zone, military rules do not typically prohibit sexual activity between two consenting, unmarried adults. Yet Cucolo’s order said women who get pregnant – and the men who impregnate them – could face charges. Commanders have always had the authority to punish soldiers under a general order, but this new order was the first time that authority has been spelled out.
Four Democratic senators wrote the Army Tuesday to demand that the “deeply misguided” order be rescinded immediately.
“Although Major General Cucolo stated today that a pregnant soldier would not necessarily be punished by court-martial under this policy, we believe the threat of criminal sanctions in the case of pregnancy goes far beyond what is needed to maintain good order and discipline,” the letter stated in part. “This policy could encourage female soldiers to delay seeking critical medical care with potentially serious consequences for mother and child.” The letter was signed by Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.
Readiness of soldiers cited
Cucolo is a widely respected officer who assumed command of the 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga,. in July. After speaking with women in his command, he released the order Nov. 4. He said he needs all his soldiers to be ready. The issue was first reported by the military newspaper Stars and Stripes.
“In this 22,000-soldier task force, I need ever soldier I’ve got, especially since during this tour we’re facing a drawdown of forces,” said Cucolo in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “Anyone who leaves the fight earlier than expected, in this 12-month deployment, creates a burden on their teammates.”
The order is “ridiculous,” says Bernard Rostker, a former personnel official at the Pentagon in the late 1990s and early 2000s and now a senior analyst at Rand Corp. Mr. Rostker, author of a book about the all-volunteer force, says sexuality is a fact of life and the military must learn to cope with pregnancy.
“If we want to have an all volunteer force, then we have to have women, and this is one aspect and we have to learn to live with it,” he said. Mr. Rostker, who while a Pentagon official confronted the issue of pregnancy within the Navy, questions the wisdom of a policy that could intimidate women into hiding their pregnancies and refraining from seeking prenatal care.
Besides, he adds, if individual soldiers use pregnancy to get out of deploying or to get sent home from a war zone, that should say something.
“If it is being used to get out of theater, you have to ask if you want these people in theater,” he says.
A previous flap over married marines
Cucolo’s order appears to be lawful, even if it raises constitutional and moral questions. The issue is reminiscent of one that confronted the Clinton administration in the early 1990s, when the Marine Corps commandant at the time, Gen. Carl Mundy, issued an order in which the Marine Corps would phase out the enlistment of married individuals. The policy, which caught the White House off guard, was meant to prevent young families from breaking up under the pressures of frequent deployment for young marines. After an uproar, the service ended the policy.
The active-duty force of 1.4 million includes more than 201,000 women at any one time. Of the 2.2 million service members who have deployed to a war zone since 2001, 231,000 are women. Condoms are available in places like Iraq, at least on the black market.