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Navy student asks court to exclude Academy head from her rape case

By Lacey Johnson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A female U.S. Navy midshipman who accused three former naval academy football players of rape, asked a court on Thursday to prevent the academy's superintendent from deciding whether the men will face court-martial.

The men, Tra'ves Bush, 22, Eric Graham, 21, and Joshua Tate, 21, are charged with sexually assaulting the woman in April 2012 at an off-campus party in Annapolis, Maryland, the site of the elite U.S. Naval Academy.

The allegations are the latest in a spate of high-profile U.S. military sexual assault cases, some involving personnel whose job it was to prevent sexual abuse. In a May 24 speech at the Naval Academy, President Barack Obama urged graduates to stamp out sexual assault from their ranks.

The woman's lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Maryland seeks a court order directing the Academy superintendent, Vice Admiral Michael Miller, "to recuse himself for bias" due to a "direct interest in ensuring that nothing...diminishes or undermines the reputation of the Naval Academy."

It also cites the "repetitive and grueling cross-examination" endured by the female midshipman during a preliminary hearing last week. The so-called Article 32 hearing, held to determine whether a general court-martial is warranted, was overseen by a military investigating officer who will recommend a ruling to the superintendent, who typically decides how to proceed.

Reuters generally does not report the names of sexual assault victims.

The men are charged with sexual assault and making false statements and may face a summary or general court-martial, administrative procedures or have the charges dropped, the academy said. It said a decision on whether to court-martial the men was expected to take several weeks.

At last week's hearing, the woman spent dozens of hours over five days on the stand answering questions, many repetitive and graphic, about the party and its aftermath.

"Nobody makes witnesses go that long," said her lawyer, Susan Burke. She said federal rules put eight-hour limits on depositions. "Then you add into that, the content...that was just over the top."

During cross-examination the woman was asked to provide details about whether she wore underwear to the party and how she has gone about performing consensual sexual acts.

"The Superintendent intentionally deprived Midshipman Doe of adequate rest during the lengthy cross-examination that delved into the details of her past consensual sexual interactions that are not at issue in the case," the lawsuit said. "The Superintendent thus assisted defense counsel in their effort to ‘turn the victim into the criminal.'"

The woman has testified that she blacked out from drinking at the party and later learned that the three football players were claiming to have had sexual intercourse with her.

The preliminary hearing, which concluded Tuesday after eight days of testimony, was unusually long because of the number of defendants, and there are more than 1,500 pages of documents.

Bush's May graduation was put on hold pending the outcome of the case. Graham is a senior, and Tate is a junior. The woman is a senior.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Grant McCool)

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