Did the National Guard racially profile its own?

New Mexico’s congressional delegation is calling for an "immediate and thorough investigation" into charges that soldiers from a New Mexico National Guard unit were partially strip-searched in Kuwait last year because many were Hispanic.

The Army says it already has conducted an investigation into the search, which occurred in May 2006. That probe cleared the military investigator who ordered about 60 members of the New Mexico unit to strip to their underwear during a check for gang tattoos, guard officials said.

But the commander of the New Mexico Guard, Adjutant Gen. Kenny Montoya, says the Army’s initial investigation glossed over what he called a racially motivated search based on an unfounded allegation about a non-New Mexican.

U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, a Santa Fe Democrat, said he would call on the secretary of the Army to launch a second, high-level investigation into the search.

"This was an unfortunate and degrading incident, and I’m very disturbed by it," Udall said. "It’s unacceptable. Unless there were specific allegations against specific soldiers, there was no reason for this to be done."

Montoya has said the search came after an uncorroborated report that a Hispanic soldier, who wasn’t from New Mexico, had Chicago-area gang tattoos. That led an investigator to travel 200 miles to search the New Mexico unit, Montoya said, "because of their last names."

None of the New Mexicans had gang tattoos. The soldier who supposedly had the Chicago gang tattoos was tracked down later, and he didn’t have gang tattoos either, Montoya said.

U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici’s office also was drafting a letter calling for a follow-up investigation, spokesman Chris Gallegos said.

Domenici, an Albuquerque Republican, was "shocked and surprised that (the search) would be subjected on folks who volunteered to serve their country," Gallegos said.

U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, an Albuquerque Republican, said she had requested a copy of the Army’s initial investigation. She called the search "wrong."

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a Silver City Democrat, said: "This is a serious allegation, and the Army needs to get to the bottom of this."

A spokesman for the Department of the Army did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Gov. Bill Richardson, who was campaigning out of state, also could not be reached for comment.

But retired Lt. Gen. Ed Baca, who served as chief of the National Guard Bureau in Washington under President Clinton, said there was "no room" for racial profiling in a war zone. "I imagine this (search) would really have a negative effect on the morale of the troops," he said. "Not just the Hispanic ones. All the troops."

On Sunday, Montoya called for the removal of Lt. Gen. Stanley Green, the Army’s inspector general.

Montoya called the Army’s initial investigation a "joke" and said the Inspector General’s Office was more interested in pursuing complaints against him, including claims Montoya improperly dismissed several officers and authorized a fly-by for the grand opening of a Roswell Toyota dealership.

Montoya said he’d been cleared of wrongdoing in both cases. He said his complaints over the search in Kuwait had effectively ended his career progression.

The 60 New Mexicans who were searched were members of Task Force Cobra, which provided convoy security in Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar from November 2005 until November 2006.

About 55 percent of the unit was Hispanic, Montoya said.

–MICHAEL GISICK


(Contact Michael Gisick at mgisick(at)abqtrib.com.)

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