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October 12th, 2009
08:03 AM ET

Report: Sailors hogtied, fed dog treats

By Carol Costello and Ronni Berke

Just the thought of it is shocking: U.S. military personnel tying up and ridiculing a young man, hosing him down, forcing him to simulate a sex act with another man, and then throwing him into a feces-filled dog's cage at the canine unit – all while being videotaped.

The alleged victims are American servicemen – and it describes the hazing and abuse allegedly inflicted on sailors at the military canine unit in Bahrain in 2005 and 2006. One of them, former dog handler Joseph Rocha, says the abuse occurred daily during his two-year deployment.

“I could not wrap my head around the degradation and the barbarity of it,” says Rocha, who was 18 when he joined the Navy’s Military Working Dog Division in Bahrain in 2005. Because he is gay, he followed the military's rules and kept his homosexuality under wraps. But although, he says, no one in his unit knew he was gay, he still suffered.

Rocha says others, including his chief, suspected he was gay when he showed no interest in sexual escapades with women. He became a prime target, he says. “It was everyday for 28 months, for 16 hours a day. Nothing I did was good enough; all of my achievements were overshadowed by ridicule of my sexuality.”

He describes being ordered by his chief “to get on my knees pretend to have oral sex with another service member. … I was instructed ... to act more queen, more queer, more homosexual, more believable.” Rocha and several others from the Bahrain unit who spoke to CNN say the hazing was widespread – gays, straights, and women in his unit were targets, too.

In its own investigation of the Bahrain unit, the Navy found more than 90 incidents of hazing and other abuses. It says sailors were "hog-tied' ... force-fed liver dog treats and told to make dog and duck sounds" and "...duct-taped to a chair, rolled outside, and then left in a dog kennel until released." That last example, Rocha says, was about him.

According to the investigation, Rocha and several others in his unit also allege the man who ordered much of the abuse was Chief Master-at-Arms Michael Toussaint. “He loved his authority. He loved his power,” says Shaun Hogan, who served in Bahrain with Rocha and says he was hazed as well. He and other sailors told CNN that Toussaint created such an atmosphere of fear, no one was immune – even Toussaint's number two, Jennifer Valdivia.

Hogan describes witnessing the following scene on video: “Toussaint ordered Valdivia, his second in command, to, well, she was dressed apparently in only a bed sheet, and she was handcuffed to a bed in a barrack's room, and she was in an almost like cat-fight with two other women.”

The Navy is now reviewing actions taken since its 2007 investigation, telling CNN in a statement: “The incident that occurred within the military working dog division does not reflect who we are as a navy." It's unclear whether Toussaint was found to have violated any rules or if any disciplinary action has been taken against him.

However, a Navy spokesman confirms he has since been promoted to senior chief, working with the Navy SEALs. We tried for a week to reach Toussaint for a comment. He did not respond. Navy spokesmen told us he is now deployed and declining interview requests.

Jennifer Valdivia’s father told us that towards the end of the internal investigation in 2007, she expected to take the fall for what happened in Bahrain. She committed suicide after posting this message on MySpace: “Tired of being blamed for other people's mistakes..."

The case has caught the attention of Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak – a former Navy admiral – who says he was so disturbed about the allegations, he has asked the Navy for information about what happened with its earlier inquiry. "For me, the real issue is, why did we let it go on so long?" Sestak says. “Why, once we knew about it, wasn't accountability taken?"

After leaving Bahrain, Rocha was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and decided to leave the Navy by giving a voluntary statement of his homosexuality. He received an honorable discharge. Now a student at the University of San Diego, he hopes to become a lawyer or a politician. And despite it all, Rocha says he still loves the Navy and wants to go back one day, should “don’t ask, don’t tell” be repealed. “I understand this is not a representation of the military,” he says.


Filed under: Controversy • Military
soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. Ex navy wife

    Only two men are accusing the chief. What about all the rest of the men in the unit. Why aren't we hearing from them? Maybe there's some exaggeration going on?

    October 22, 2009 at 5:04 pm |
  2. USMC

    Hazing is usually a one time thing. A short period of time. This article makes it sound like it went on for years. Every military person knows there is a Chain of Command, doesn't seem like to many if any were complaining at the time. Rocha could of requested Mast to Valdivia, even skipped Senior Chief Toussaint and went up the chain, even to their congressman. What happened? The whole story is not being told here.

    October 22, 2009 at 12:31 pm |
  3. Navy K9

    Anyone posting on here ever think that some of these allegations are blown way out of porportion? Or do we all still take the media at face value. I personally know Senior Toussaint and this man displayed none of the following actions.

    We all joke and mess with each other in the navy especially in tight knit groups. This is just another example of someone looking for their spotlight and 15 minutes of fame.

    October 16, 2009 at 2:19 am |
  4. Dave

    I am a 20 year Naval Veteran, this has Nothing to do with that guys sexual orientation, it was done to everyone in that unit.

    Now I can see because of his sexual orientation that it might be perceived to particularly offensive, but in truth it was offense to many people in the unit for the looks of it in your video.

    He is the deal the MAC was an I am sure still a ^%%ing Jerk.

    Some people are #$%#%oles and that guy should be held accountable to the fullest extent that the UCMJ can be directed at him.

    But this is Most Definitely "Not" about Joseph Rocha's sexual orientation, it is about being assigned to work for an ^$%%ole and nothing more.

    October 14, 2009 at 12:24 pm |
  5. Seamus O'Toole

    I am not saying the kid in the video is lying but how could someone that young make E7 (he is wearing khakis with a chiefs pin in the video of the parade). If he joined in 2005 at 18 and is out now then he served at most 4 years so how could he rise that fast in the ranks? I know that hazing is a part of life in the service but I think that CNN made a big deal about it and obviously did not check any facts (calling an E7 a CO). Lazy reporting.

    October 12, 2009 at 8:57 pm |
  6. Al Herter

    This incident and so many others like it to include abuse of prisoners is a direct result in poor and ineffectice leadership. Leaders from the top down have placed their own interests ahead of their subordinates and standards. Thin the herd!! You do that by haveing high standards and integrity, not playing games like some high school sports team. No wonder the military is often viewed negatively.

    October 12, 2009 at 8:24 pm |
  7. Chief Select

    I just finished my 16th year in the Navy Reserve and was promoted to Chief Petty Officer. After what I considered an achievement of a lifetime, I let my enlistment lapse rather than put myself through ritualistic hazing known as the Chief's initiation. I have to admit, it was nothing compared what that young man endured, but, at this stage in my life I thought the process of ridicule, criticism and embarrassment completely unnecessary. I have friends that have reached the same level in the other services and they say that nothing like that exists in the Army, Air Force or the Marine Corps. I expressed my displeasure with the process and I was told that's part of the transition to Chief and that it would all come into focus when its over. I have no doubt that would have been the case, except in my case I chose not to participate. I already have regrets for letting my enlistment laspe and most likely reenlisting at this point will not be allowed due to my nonparticipation. I truly believe these rituals really need to be curtailed or completely eliminated once and for all. I gave up a pension and life time medical over it and I'd like to see something done for others follow after me...

    October 12, 2009 at 7:43 pm |
  8. Bulldawg

    I was in the Air Force for 22 years, 3 months and nine days. The best years of my life.

    This story is a continuation of the downfall of the USA. They got their feelings hurt, made to do something they didn't want to do. Oh BOO HOO! Get over it. Maybe we should issue baby bottles to FNG's, diapers, life size doll of their mommies and a lifetime supply of tissues.

    They are hired to conduct war, kill the enemy, be tough. All I see today is a bunch of cry babies complaining every chance they get about how bad they have it. Butch up babies. They enemy will do a lot worse to you. Who are you gonna complain to then.

    If they spent more time getting ready to be a force to be reckoned with, we wouldn't be losing two wars. Quit filming yourselves doing things and embarassing the USA.

    The downfall of this great nation started when mothers had to go to work and kids came home from school and didn't have supervision. Then came no spankings, therapy cause they didn't get the game they wanted, and the all great MODEL WORKPLACE. We need to go back to the 70's.

    GOD BLESS the men and women out there fighting every day and not complaining, getting the mission done, country first!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 12, 2009 at 6:56 pm |
  9. Charley

    Geez, Kevin - out of everything said, the only important thing that stuck out to you is the fact that CNN did not emphasize the fact that the Commanding Officer was an enlisted man. Really? 133 Officers who were Commanding Officers have been sacked/fired from command since 1999, and you are worried about this one enlisted man harming the "honorable " reputation of the officer core?

    This is not about officer or enlisted. This is about real people, military Sailors, who were abused at the hands of the leaders charged with taking care of them. Honor, Courage, Commitment - the Navy Ethos that highlights integrity...the Sailors Creed, " I am committed to excellence and the fair treatment of all."

    You know what the real problem is? Throughout the Navy today, leadership fails to hold other leaders accountable for ensuring the personal and professional growth and success of both Sailors and junior officers. Ask the SWO community about hazing...oh but we won't go there now will we? Respect for yourself and others is a RIGHT, and it is the DUTY of leaders throughout the Navy to ensure that we teach, guide, mentor, and LEAD those individuals who are new to this organization - Officer and Enlisted - the importance of abiding by this fundamental concept. If we did this, we would have a whole lot less E-6s and more First Class Petty Officers - your front line leaders and less E7's and more Chiefs – your even more valuable mentor to both enlisted and junior officer. We would have a smaller attrition rate for the number of disgruntled SWOs that are running from the Navy at the hands of their peers and their officer leadership.

    It is time to get back to the basics. Leaders must be held accountable for the growth and personal and professional success of their junior personnel - from the top of the Food Chain all the way down. A good Leader can only be determined by examining the individuals they lead. If spirits are high, the mission is accomplished and Sailors' lives reflect great things..You got yourself a true leader – Officer and Enlisted.

    October 12, 2009 at 6:47 pm |
  10. mike( us navy chief retired)

    Belay my last post,thought this was a possible chiefs initiation, this gents not a chief, wearing chiefs anchors on cover, but his collar devices show he is not, why is he wearing a chiefs/officers uniform. Well I guess it was a simple hazing, which was traditional in my navy, cant hang, then leave. , guess the new generation cant hang, if its abusive not needed, but a simple initiation no problem,its the navy folks, his loss

    October 12, 2009 at 6:18 pm |
  11. mike( us navy chief retired)

    Sounds to me that this was a simple chiefs initiation, I went through it ,it is navy tradition, wasnt so bad, guess I wanted to be part of the tradition more than this gent wanted to be, he did not have to go through initiation if he didnt want to, was his choice, or is he making an issue of something that is not that big, his loss

    October 12, 2009 at 5:43 pm |
  12. John

    Thanks Kayakngal–I have a son in the Navy, he has served in Iraq and Afganistan–not a fun thing to go thru–I would very much like to have him make a career in the Navy– I love the Navy and personally think that anyone who makes it a constant source of punishment should not be allowed to serve our country!!! I thank you for your service and I believe you were a great Master Chief Petty Officer, I hope my son will be as sensible as you are– TNX

    October 12, 2009 at 5:39 pm |
  13. Brandon

    I was in the Navy for five years...I made it to second class petty officer and decided one enlistment is enough.

    The Navy is full of hazing in ways other than towards a homosexual. It's quite immature really...You join the Navy and you take 10 steps back.

    I'm glad to be out that's for sure...it's amazing that this is an organization that calls having your hands in your pocket when it's cold outside unprofessional but has these "traditions" that harm others. Way to keep it professional...

    October 12, 2009 at 4:57 pm |
  14. Joe

    LOL....wow, the news must be slow for this to be a headline. The military is volunteer. To be honest, I wish it wasn't. I think everybody would toughen up if they had to serve two years or more.

    I love it when "former" service members claim they never saw any hazing cause they are full of crap. Everyone gets hazed. What do you think HELL WEEK is in boot camp? Yep...hazing. Deal with it people. Stop cying. Stop trying to ruin tradition. Hazing breeds discipline, respect and strengthens the bond between the crew. You have to be able to depend on and trust the people fighting next to you but if you don't know them or what they have been through, how can you?

    October 12, 2009 at 4:37 pm |
  15. casey clark

    Why didnt he man up and just leave to tell his supervisor?

    October 12, 2009 at 2:55 pm |
  16. Mesha

    I don't understand why this Touissand person is still serving. This does nothing to advance recruitment of new military. There's no accountabiity and I'd like to know why? He's still in the military...ugh!

    October 12, 2009 at 2:27 pm |
  17. Jerv

    I admit that there are certain things that are not done, and that if "Wog Day" isn't what it used to be, but COME ON!
    Sorry, but I have to say that this sounds like a typical Tuesday afternoon in Engineering. If you think this is bad then why don't you sue CNN for inflicting emotional trauma on you by publicizing this and causing you distress?

    October 12, 2009 at 1:52 pm |
  18. ECash

    Kayakngal – duly noted and I respect your opinion. My experience in the infantry was different. My main issue is the media trying to take this issue and use it to make a "PC" point that DADT is the reason the hazing occurred and using the Chief as the scapegoat. We "peered out" fellow soldiers for many reasons, those that were unwilling to pull their weight and non hackers and under achievers. I was hazed and hazed others, it was a right of passage for brothers in arms. That was my experience, not the same for everyone. I suppose I resist change. I guess I must accept the fact that the military must be pulled into the 21st century and get on board with thinking that being a parading and outspoken homosexual is the norm, no matter what the situation is or how it will effect cohesion. If the Chief is punished, so be it, the court of PC wins in the end. I for one think the entire story is a sad commentary on how soft we have become as a nation. Feelings get hurt, life is hard and unfair, not everyone will love and respect you and sometimes bad things happen to good people. Ruck it up and suck it up. GO ARMY, BEAT NAVY!

    October 12, 2009 at 1:16 pm |
  19. Mari

    Please don't let this go to the wayside. Keep on the Navy. I remember Tailhook, are we back to that again. I though the Navy had changed. The chief needs to be held accountable. One of my children is thinking of going in the military, thank goodness not Navy, when he graduates college. Don't let this go, Americans need to know and believe that their Military is not above the law.

    October 12, 2009 at 1:08 pm |
  20. kayakngal

    Ecash – having served in a combat zone there is a CLAER difference between defending your country and hazing a service member. I served 21 years in the Navy, retiring as a Master Chief Petty Officer. This Chief Petty Offficer, along with others in his chain of command should be held accountable for his unexcusable actions. He is NOT a leader, a role model or someone I would want representing the behavior of our armed forces. The Navy should hold him accountable, return him from his tour of duty and if the allegations are true a dishonorable discharge is most fitting for his disgusting behavior.

    October 12, 2009 at 12:30 pm |
  21. Patrick in Iowa

    The United States Navy has allowed "hazing" to occur for decades. All you have to do is ask any sailor that has been on a ship that has crossed the equator to find out about incidents of "hazing".

    The Navy term associated with a ship crossing the equator is "Shellback Initiation". The crew members who have previously crossed the equator basically get an entire day to "haze" or torment the rest of the crew that has never crossed the equator. The events of the day are disgusting yet allowed to occur by the US Navy. Why should adults be forced to be a part of the hazing or else be degraded for not participating?

    While some may argue that this is Navy "tradition", this type of event only proves that "hazing" does occur in the US Navy and will continue to occur until "tradition" changes.

    October 12, 2009 at 12:29 pm |
  22. ECash

    Hazing has always been a part of the military and always will be. Do you really think that eating a dog biscuit compares to the hardship of a combat zone? If you chose to get involved in a "Tip of the Spear" MOS then be willing to be put through some hazing, its meant to thin the herd. As far as the Master Chief goes, notice he is assigned to a SEAL team. Do you think he was hazed in an attempt to test his intestinal fortitude? And great job CNN on respecting this man's OPSEC while he is in country. Be sure to post more photos of him on your international news network. Nothing makes news like putting a target on a mans back who is assigned to a high risk unit while he's tasked to a mission you could never fathom much less chose to perform yourselves.

    October 12, 2009 at 12:03 pm |
  23. Francis

    The actions of some are not the fault of the rest..punish the guilty. And crossing the line ceremonies have since been toned down dramatically to support political correctness...

    October 12, 2009 at 12:01 pm |
  24. Kevin

    Now you wouldn't be talking about shellbacks or blue nose Sharon? What was done in this case was completely uncalled for and how he made E-8 if there were any reports filed due to this makes me question the Navy brass. I didn't hear anything say that there were. The one thing I wish CNN would get straight is, don't post asking how a commanding officer got promoted when he's enlisted. Big difference to say the least.

    October 12, 2009 at 11:55 am |
  25. sharon

    why don't you ask what happens to sailors when they cross the equator ! it's the same thing!.

    October 12, 2009 at 11:43 am |
  26. ronvan

    NEVER, in my 23yrs. in the Army, did I EVER see or hear of things like this! It really makes me wonder what the heck our military leaders are doing and thinking!

    October 12, 2009 at 10:09 am |