WASHINGTON - President Obama said Thursday the nation's military leaders told him they were "ashamed" of their failure to end sexual abuse in the services. He pledged to "leave no stone unturned" in the effort to halt the abuse, which he said undermined the trust the military needed to be effective.
Obama said he had asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey to lead a process to root out the problem.
"They care about this and they are angry about it," Obama said at the White House, after he summoned Hagel, Dempsey, and other top defense leaders to discuss a problem thrust to the fore by misconduct cases and a Pentagon report showing up to 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year.
"I heard directly from all of them that they are ashamed by some of what's happened," Obama said.
The military has been shaken by several recent cases of alleged misconduct. In the latest case, on Thursday, Army officials say the manager of the sexual-assault response program at Fort Campbell, Ky., has been arrested in a domestic dispute and relieved of his post.
Lt. Col. Darin Haas turned himself in to police late Wednesday on charges of violating an order of protection and stalking.
Earlier Thursday, the Army's top officer acknowledged that his service was failing in its effort to stop sexual assaults.
Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, issued a public message to all soldiers in which he said the "bedrock of trust" between soldiers and their leaders had been violated.
He said the Army demonstrated competence and courage through nearly 12 years of war. "Today, however, the Army is failing in its efforts to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment," he wrote.
"It is time we take on the fight against sexual assault and sexual harassment as our primary mission," Odierno said.
Obama said Hagel would consult with Congress as well as other militaries around the world.
Allegations of sexual assault in the military have triggered outrage.
"We're losing the confidence of the women who serve that we can solve this problem," Dempsey said Wednesday.
"That's a crisis," Dempsey said during a flight from Europe to Washington that were reported by the American Forces Press Service, which is the Pentagon's news agency. He suggested a deepening of the problem may be linked to the strains of war.
"Instinctively, I knew it had to have some effect," he said.