The panel's 12 military and 12 civilian members agree that message must come from "the top," so they're asking the Defense Department's senior civilian leader to put out the word.
"An unequivocal statement from you will send a powerful signal throughout the department. It will make clear that this matter must be addressed decisively, judiciously and unwaveringly," task force co-chairs Marine Lt. Gen. Jack W. Klimp and Deborah D. Tucker wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
In a report sent to the secretary Feb. 28 and presented to staffers of the House and Senate armed services committees on March 9, the task force outlined its initial findings. The report also contains 59 recommendations to improve Defense's response to domestic violence, ranging from increasing military police training to enhancing victim safety.
The panel labeled the first of its 59 ideas--the zero- tolerance memo--"The Mother of All Recommendations." It asks the Secretary to sign a proposed memorandum stating that domestic violence is a pervasive problem within society that transcends all ethnic, racial, gender and socioeconomic boundaries, and it will not be tolerated in the Defense Department.
Rumsfeld has 90 days to review, comment and forward the report to Congress.
Overall, the task force report calls on Defense to address domestic violence as it has other social problems that can adversely affect national security. Panel members noted that Defense has worked effectively, for example, to eliminate racial and gender discrimination by establishing equal opportunity policies.
The Pentagon's "zero tolerance" policies have significantly reduced alcohol and drug abuse. A similar policy would help prevent domestic violence, the congressionally mandated panel said.
The proposed Rumsfeld policy memo, Klimp told American Forces Information Service reporters, would set the command atmosphere the general considers "key to resolving almost every issue in the military."
"When the leader of the Department of Defense says, 'This is not good,' that [message] will percolate down through the chain of command," the general said. "Commanders can make it clear within their organizations that this kind of conduct is not appropriate for members of the armed forces and it won't be tolerated."
If signed, Rumsfeld's memo would form a rock-solid foundation for the panel's recommendations, said Tucker, Klimp's civilian counterpart. During a telephone interview from her office in Austin, Texas, she said the memo would stress the "importance the Secretary attaches to ferreting out appropriate ways to intervene and prevent domestic violence."