Joseph Rocha Was Tormented By His Navy Commander. Guess Who Was Rewarded?


Joseph Christopher Rocha, the gay Navy vet whose horror story of abuse at the hands of comrades in the Middle East we’ve been following, got another dose of bad news: The same guy who helped perpetrate the abuse has been rewarded with promotions.

From being forced to simulate oral sex to being thrown into a dog kennel, Rocha endured two years of harassment and assaults from fellow sailors — and his chief master-at-arms, Michael Toussaint, who Rocha says targeted him about six weeks into deployment, all because Rocha had no interest in screwing around with the female prostitutes many of the straight sailors were happy to oblige.

Eventually, Rocha, who was part of the Navy’s crew that worked with bomb-sniffing dogs in Bahrain, resigned his post (by coming out!) to escape, and the Navy’s brief investigation into his harassment allegations ended without any charges being filed.

Now, through a Freedom of Information Act, YouthRadio.org retrieved some of the Navy’s own paperwork into the lax investigation, revealing the horror Rocha claims he endured. Sadly, YouthRadio’s own detective work is leaps and bounds ahead of the Navy’s own commitment to finding out the truth. And holding the perpetrators accountable.

The FOIA documents have been redacted, so names are blocked out, but the actions listed include: throwing hard balls at the groin, spraying down uniformed personnel with multiple hoses, and a dog attacking a sex worker on base to the point of hospitalization.

Youth Radio’s investigation includes interviewing four members of the Bahrain Working Dogs Division who served between 2004 and 2006. All say the tone was set by Chief Toussaint. Some sailors participated in the culture of hazing as victims, others as perpetrators, or in some cases both. They say the hazing continued because of a series of threats that were also integral to the culture of the unit, which not only tolerated abuse, but also invited it. To prevent them from speaking out, sailors Youth Radio interviewed say Toussaint would threaten to revoke their handlers’ licenses–taking away their dogs and their specialty in the Navy.

And what kind of torment was he forced to endure?

[T]he hog-tying episode was not the first or only case of harassment and abuse during Rocha’s deployment. In another incident cited in the documents, Rocha was forced to appear in a twisted “training video.” A member of the Working Dogs Division, Petty Officer Shaun Hogan, recalls the scene.

“Petty Officer Rocha and another junior sailor…were instructed to go into a classroom by Chief Michael Toussaint, who orchestrated the entire training. And Chief Toussaint asked them to simulate homosexual sex on a couch,” Hogan says.

Next in the simulation, Hogan says a handler and his dog barged onto the scene, and that’s when “one person…would sit up, kind of wipe off their mouth, the other would get up, and they would be fixing their fly.”

Rocha says Toussaint bullied him, “telling me I needed to be more believable, act more queer, have a higher pitched voice, make the sounds and gestures more realistic…I didn’t think I had a choice…It made me feel that I wasn’t a human being, that I was an animal, rather.”

Rocha says at the time, he had no gay friends, no male lovers, and wasn’t even fully out to himself about his sexuality. “The fact that I was starting to figure out that I was a homosexual, it was the most degrading thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.” Still, eight thousand miles away from home, he was afraid to report the constant hazing. And Rocha was not the only one.

Throughout learning of Rocha’s story, one thing that never escaped our minds was: Yes, but weren’t there witnesses to all of this who didn’t participate? Yes, of course, but they were too afraid to speak up.


Shaun Hogan (at right) says he is haunted by personal guilt.

“I was duty bound to protect those under my command; Petty Officer Rocha [and] several others. I have a lot of regret for not having spoken up at the time and intervening… and the reason I didn’t was because I felt threatened myself. Chief Toussaint had shown he will throw people out of the kennel. The last thing he did when he left was threaten me, that if he hears anything that doesn’t agree with him, he knows people, and he’ll seek to have my certification to handle dogs removed.”

We can only imagine what type of fear and anguish our men and women in uniform face every day in the Middle East. The last thing we need is their own commanders terrorizing them.

Now given the Navy’s stonewalling, what do you think are the chances Pentagon higher-ups will ever address the matter?

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  • j

    You forgot to mention that the kennel was full of shit. I think that’s an important point.

  • Bill

    Why any Gay or Lesbian American would want to serve this country is way beyond my comprehension.

    This country deserves exactly what it has coming to it.

  • dlpca

    @Bill: Agreed!

  • Bill Perdue

    It’s getting harder and harder for young working class men and women in the US to make it. Unemployment is increasing and obstinate. They’re indebted to predatory lenders and largely denied access to health care, good housing and free education by class and racial discrimination. That’s especially true of minority and openly gay youth because in times like these “last hired, first fired” kicks in with a vengeance. Older workers are putting off retiring.

    Nevertheless when they consider enlistment we have to point out that they’re making a mistake. A terrible mistake.

    If they’re LGBT youth Clintons codification of bigotry, DADT, is going to expose them to additional dangers. If they’re women they going to be exposed to high levels of sexual harassment and violence. Link to the Mar 17, 2009, CBS Evening News story titled Sexual Assault Permeates US Armed Forces at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/03/17/eveningnews/main4872713.shtml for a better picture.

    And beyond that there’s the indisputable fact that the military brass, the military industrial complex, Congress and the White House, whether Democrat or Republican, thinks of them as expendable. Hamburger. Causalities in waiting.

    Worst of all, far from defending the US, they’re being used in illegal, racist wars of colonial conquest to make the rich richer.
    We should demand the repeal of Clinton’s DADT but we should also do everything in our power to convince people not to become part of a murder machine.

    We should do all we can to support and encourage the growing GI antiwar movement. Iraq Veterans Against the War can be reached at ivaw dot org. These are people who’ve been thru the ringer and are working their asses off to save their fellow soldiers. Anyone thinking of enlisting or re-upping should be given that links.

    These are the real heroes:


  • Bill Perdue

    @Bill Perdue: Sorry about the extra pictures. Too many clicks.

  • Lex


    That is what I want to know! Gay men and women are kicking and screaming about not being treated fairly in the military…Don’t sign up! You are not safe, you are not protected.

    If the government refuses to protect you then don’t protect them! PERIOD.

    This should wake a few people up, but most likely it won’t. Too many people with their heads up their asses thinking going with the motions will change the abuse and hatred. The military is the ultimate “alpha male” situation. You’re asking for trouble as a gay man joining that garbage.

  • hephaestion

    Absolutely, do not sign up. Not now. At least wait a couple of years to see if DADT is repealed, and THEN consider signing up. But better you should find new work to save the world from global warming or help end injustice and starvation.

  • Glennmcgahee

    The point is not about enlisting or not. The point is the ridiculous culture of inhumane actions of a few in power. If they do this kind of thing to our own soldiers, what are they doing to foreign civilians. Why do they even have the time to include such barbaric practices in training. We have more contractors acting as soldiers on our behalf in these wars. If the miltary is getting away with this stuff, what the hell are the contractor/soldiers doing? Who is in charge? Why, its the Commander in Chief, Barack Obama.
    We do need the military. They are supposed to defend us and our Constitution. We need more good soldiers, not thugs. How in the hell can these things be happening with no oversight. Just imagine what we don’t hear about. Remember, we had a murder of a gay sailor recently. Headlines? What headlines? I don’t see any except here. Raise your voice. Call your Representative now!

  • Klarth


    of course you had to turn this into an Obama tirade, as if this stuff hasn’t been going on for enough years to be entrenched in the military. The man hasn’t even been in office a full term, and you are blaming things on him that have gone on for years. Typical.

    That said, the POTUS needs to get off his butt and fix this. I am not denying that. But keep it separate from any personal issues you have with the man. This stuff went on under Bush, too. Thank you.

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