Opening Argument April 2007

'Rape' and the Navy's P.C. Police

A bogus rape charge shouldn't derail the Navy career of 23-year-old Lamar Owens Jr., the former quarterback of the Naval Academy's football team.

This is a story about a 23-year-old African-American midshipman who has limitless potential to serve his country but now faces a grave risk of seeing his Navy career derailed because of a bogus rape charge by a white woman whose violations of Navy rules were worse than his.

Lamar Owens Jr., the star quarterback, captain, and MVP of the Navy football team through the 2005 season, was resoundingly acquitted of rape last July 20, after the evidence presented to a military jury of five naval officers showed clearly that his sexual encounter with a female midshipman six months before was consensual and that the rape prosecution was a travesty.

More broadly, this is a story about how overreaction to the bad old days when real rape victims were not taken seriously has fostered a politically correct presumption of guilt in many rape cases, leading to wrongful prosecutions of innocent men and, probably, the convictions of some.

In the now-infamous Duke lacrosse rape fraud, the falsely accused men are white, the lying accuser is black, and racial demagoguery has fueled the prosecution. In other cases, such as that of Lamar Owens, the races have been reversed and suspicions of racially selective prosecution muted. In most, the men and women have been of the same race.

Owens endured a court-martial that should never have been convened, in the face of powerful evidence of innocence, thanks to the "leadership" of the Naval Academy's superintendent, Vice Adm. Rodney Rempt. He has led a much-publicized crackdown on sexual assault and harassment, but has badly overshot the mark.

Owens's acquittal on the rape charge did not end Rempt's campaign to ruin the young man. On February 12, the superintendent urged Navy Secretary Donald Winter to deny Owens the Naval Academy diploma and officer's commission for which he had fully qualified, with flying colors. Rempt's reason was that Owens was convicted on two relatively minor charges. These were consensual sex in Bancroft Hall ("conduct unbecoming an officer"), the huge dorm in which all midshipmen live, and forgetfully walking past the accuser's door contrary to an order to stay out of her area of the building ("failure to obey a lawful order").

Rempt's crackdown gives off an odor of sacrificing due process to appease feminists who have appropriately assailed the service academies' sometimes appalling trivialization of serious rape allegations.

According to an affidavit sworn by prominent Naval Academy alumnus and football player Peter Optekar, he privately asked Rempt—then a dinner guest at Optekar's home, four days after the rape acquittal—why he had subjected Owens to a general court-martial. Rempt's reported response:

"Pete, I had no other choice. If I did not take him to a GCM, we would have had every feminist organization and the ACLU after us."

According to another affidavit, this one sworn by three other Navy alums who attended Optekar's dinner party, Rempt also said that the consensual-sex and failure-to-obey convictions would be considered felonies, and that they would bar Owens from voting and require him to notify any future employer, for the rest of his life, that he was a convicted felon. (Rempt has disputed the affidavits.)

Presented by

Stuart Taylor Jr., a contributing editor for National Journal, is teaching a course on the news media and the law at Stanford Law School.

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