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Army soldier to face lesser court-martial.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

The Army won't be throwing its heaviest legal book at Suzanne Swift, the soldier arrested in Eugene last summer for being absent without leave for 123 days.

Fort Lewis officials confirmed on Monday that Swift, who was scheduled for a special court-martial on Jan. 8, will instead face an administrative proceeding known as a summary court-martial sometime in the next two weeks.

A military police specialist who served with the 66th and 54th Military Police companies, Swift failed to join her unit for a second tour of duty in Iraq last January. Swift said she couldn't face returning to the war zone because of the sexual harassment and coercion she had experienced at the hands of supervising sergeants during her first deployment.

In June, she was arrested by local police at her mother's Eugene home and returned to Fort Lewis.

In a document signed by Swift and a military prosecutor, Swift admitted to being absent without leave and missing movement - a charge relating to her failure to get on the plane with her unit for Iraq, said Sgt. Maj. Yolanda Choates, an Army spokeswoman at Fort Lewis. Choates said she hadn't seen the document but that it might indicate that Swift agrees with other facts in the case.

The summary court-martial will be carried out by a presiding officer in Swift's current unit, the 42nd Military Police Brigade, Choates said.

Swift will face a maximum punishment of 30 days of jail time, reduction in rank to private and a month's loss of two-thirds of her pay, Choates said. She will complete the rest of her term of service, five years, plus the 123 days she missed when she was AWOL, and will be honorably discharged, Choates said.

It's a different outcome than the one the military had originally prescribed. In October, Fort Lewis officials announced that Swift would face a special court-martial that could have resulted in a yearlong confinement.

More severe punishment - a general court-martial that could have resulted in five years of confinement - was ruled out at that point.

"It's just an example that the military allows for each case to be judged on its own merit," Choates said. Lt. Gen. James Dubik, the base commander, decided that the summary court-martial was the better option for Swift, she said.

The complicated case has drawn international attention and kept Swift and her family in a state of limbo for months.

In June, Fort Lewis officials launched an investigation into Swift's accusations that two sergeants had sexually harassed her and that one had coerced her into a sexual relationship.

The inquiry confirmed that one incident of harassment had occurred in the United States but failed to find evidence that Swift had been harassed or coerced into a sexual relationship in Iraq, despite the fact that the investigator said he found Swift's emotional testimony convincing.

Swift was not available for comment on Monday, but her mother, Sara Rich, said the outcome was a disappointment.

"I was hoping that they would do a real investigation into what the platoon sergeant and squad leader did, and that they would have some compassion for Suzanne," Rich said. She had hoped for a general discharge for Swift, so her daughter could begin healing from what Rich described as post-traumatic stress disorder and military sexual trauma, a term coined by psychologists who work with veterans.

Rich said her daughter has been told to box up her belongings, get copies of her medical records and prepare to go to jail. Once her punishment is complete, Swift will have the option to train for a new job and transfer to a new post.

Rich said Swift is interested in working in the medical field and is considering a transfer to Fort Sam Houston in Texas, where training is available.

The deal means Swift will avoid having a federal conviction on her record, said Choates, the Army spokeswoman.
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Title Annotation:Courts; Suzanne Swift will spend up to a month in jail for being absent without leave this year
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 12, 2006
Words:654
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