June 9, 2010 in City
National security issues take stage in Fairchild rape case
National security questions have been raised during the Spokane rape trial of a civilian contractor who, according to court testimony, took a woman he just met over the Internet into one of the military’s most secure facilities.
The woman got a tour of a secure section of Fairchild Air Force Base used to train military personnel in what to expect if they’re taken prisoner. The tour included a mock prisoner of war camp — complete with barrels half full of water where instructors simulated drowning their subjects — and a building that houses an interrogation center.
The alleged attack occurred when the 27-year-old woman asked Michael Fassbender, a civilian contractor for SERE Solutions Inc., what types of questions he would ask military personnel during prisoner interrogations.
“This is a secure facility,” said Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Sharon Hedlund, “and there are obvious national security concerns.”
Asked outside the courtroom Wednesday if the U.S. Air Force had requested that she refrain from talking about features inside the facility, Hedlund said: “They are working with us.”
Hedlund referred questions to Capt. Timothy Griswold, who she said is her contact at Fairchild. Griswold did not return a phone message seeking comment, but 1st Lt. Casey Osborne said details of the Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape program — or SERE — are classified for obvious reasons.
“The reason we have those restrictions about what we do at SERE is because we take people who could fall into adversaries’ hands and try to train them to resist,” Osborne said. “If we publicize a lot of that information, then someone who wants to do us harm … could develop counter tactics.”
Osborne said the breach will “not affect our relationship with SERE Solutions Inc.,” but he would not elaborate.
He added that the Air Force has completed an internal investigation. “We cannot discuss the details of it because they are of a sensitive nature,” he said. “However, the Air Force and the base have fully addressed this issue.”
Details of the security breach came Wednesday as the alleged victim testified about her experience a few days after meeting Fassbender on an online dating service. Fassbender faces three counts of first-degree rape and one count of second-degree assault with sexual motivation. His attorney said in opening statements Tuesday that the sex was consensual.
After a few online chats, the couple met for the first time for dinner on Oct. 19. After dinner, Fassbender, 32, took her to the secure location of the base, which he told the woman was off-limits to all civilians and most military personnel.
Fassbender took her to the mock prisoner-of-war camp where he obtained firewood for a campfire. They drank wine and listened to music coming from Fassbender’s truck until he took the woman to the interrogation building to use the restroom, according to court testimony.
She testified that Fassbender, a 5-foot-9 former military member who also worked for military police, told her she couldn’t take her cell phone inside the secure interrogation facility.
“He told me he teaches soldiers how to deal with torture … and interrogation. He said it was classified information,” she said.
The woman, who stands 4-foot-9, said she was put at ease by Fassbender’s online profile because her soon-to-be ex-husband is in the military police.
“It made me feel safer because police officers are supposed to be good people,” she said. “He showed me his military ID with a security chip and everything. He told me his sister-in-law was a judge in Airway Heights and he could get away with rape, pillage and murder. I took it as a joke.”
According to later testimony, Fassbender’s sister-in-law is Airway Heights Municipal Court Judge Jennifer Fassbender.
After taking the woman inside the interrogation building, Michael Fassbender gave her a tour of the rooms, computers and even offered her a beer from the refrigerator inside the secure facility.
Asked by Hedlund why she went with him to the secure area, the woman said: “It thought it would be interesting. Because I’m not allowed in there … it was kind of exciting. I asked him about everything.”
Fassbender eventually started kissing the woman and she did not object. But he groped her, and she said she told him “no” and pushed him away.
He then disrobed her. “He kind of started doing an interrogation on me and he told me that I was really naïve … for coming with him. I started getting really scared,” she said. “He told me, ‘No one knows you are here. You could just disappear. No one would hear you scream.’”
During intercourse, Fassbender slapped and scratched her and called her a “whore.” He then began to choke her, she testified.
“I told him to stop, stop, you are hurting me,” she said. “I started feeling tingly. I knew I was going to lose consciousness. All I could think of is this is how I am going to die. I wanted to see my kids again.”
Fassbender continued raping her while she was unconscious, she testified. When she awoke, “He actually had the audacity to ask me why I was crying,” the woman said. “I figured he might just kill me.”
But instead, Fassbender drove the woman off the base and dropped her off at her car. He asked for a goodbye kiss.
“I sat in my car and waited for him to leave,” she said. “Once he was out of sight, I started hysterically crying.”